Pubdate: Wed, 28 Oct 2015
Source: Nanaimo Daily News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Nanaimo Daily News
Author: Darrell Bellaart
Page: 3


Change of Government Brings Issue Back to the Forefront

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper sparked considerable debate 
following an election campaign stop in Montreal where he described 
cannabis as "infinitely worse" than tobacco.

Many media organizations were quick to find experts willing to 
discredit the claim. Critics said it was out of step in a climate 
where a growing number of U.S. states are now legalizing the drug, 
while cashing in on the resulting tax windfall, and slashing police 
and prison costs. Some countries in Latin America are going the same 
way. And the new Liberal government successfully campaigned on a 
promise to legalize marijuana.

Which begs the question: Who in this day and age truly believes 
marijuana should remain illegal?

Not John Anderson, retired criminologist at Vancouver Island University.

"I couldn't believe the prime minister would make such a statement - 
it disturbs me that that level of ignorance exists at such a high 
level," Anderson said. "He's just not paying attention to what the 
science says."

And as science discredits negative claims about the drug, the scales 
of public opinion are tipping further away from demonization.

Even some police departments have declared the war on pot over.

Vancouver police want to dismiss a complaint from a group calling 
itself Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada, accusing the VPD of 
"failing in their duty" by allowing pot shops to remain open.

Deputy Chief Doug LePard submitted a report saying the department 
must prioritize more serious drug offences and dispensaries that pose 
a public safety risk.

Legal, social and political factors complicate enforcement, including 
city bylaws written to regulate pot dispensaries, rather than shut 
them down, he said.

Anderson said he's "very encouraged" with the VPD approach.

Those who insist on keeping it illegal do so for "material benefit," 
Anderson said.

"The vast majority of Canadians - 80 per cent - would like to see 
cannabis legalized for medicinal purposes.

"A majority of Canadians feel cannabis should at least be 
decriminalized, or, at best, legalized."

Legalization has gained momentum as a viable option in recent years

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international organization 
aimed at ending the war on pot, has an advisory board which includes 
former B.C. chief coroner and retired RCMP chief superintendent Vince 
Cain, Senator and former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell, and former 
MP Libby Davies, in B.C. alone.

Harper cited "growing scientific and medical evidence about the bad, 
long-term effects of marijuana."

"Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is 
infinitely worse and it's something that we do not want to encourage."

A report from the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction in Toronto, 
which cited multiple research studies, said that daily or near-daily 
use of marijuana can slow down how quickly one thinks and acts. The 
report also ties regular, long-term cannabis smoking to respiratory 
problems with links to bronchitis and cancer.

Frequent marijuana use could also exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues.

There are also concerns about addiction. About one in every 10 
cannabis users risks becoming dependent, compared to 68 per cent for tobacco.

Research has shown that about four per cent of marijuana users report 
some sort of health, legal or financial trouble, said David Hammond, 
the CIHR Applied Chair in Public Health at the University of Waterloo.

Heavy, long-term use of marijuana by teens has been linked to an 
increased risk of schizophrenia-related mental health disorders in 
early adulthood, said Steven Laviolette from Western University's 
Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, who researches the effects 
on the brain of nicotine and THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

But Laviolette said those are teenagers who use high-THC marijuana.

Research has also shown these teens may have a genetic predisposition 
to developing mental health disorders, he said, blurring links 
between smoking marijuana and mental health issues.

But CBD another active chemical in marijuana, has been shown to be an 
anti-psychotic that counteracts THC, Laviolette said.

And research suggests cannabis can be useful to treat addiction, 
discrediting the long-held "gateway drug" label for marijuana, 
according to a research paper by Philippe Lucas, research scholar, 
with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.

"At a time when prescription opiates are responsible for rising 
levels of addiction, morbidity and mortality in Canada, anything that 
helps reduce pharmaceutical use of opiates will have a beneficial 
impact," Lucas said.

The study analyzed the responses from 670 people to a survey with 414 
questions on cannabis use, including the conscious use of cannabis as 
a substitute for other, more addictive drugs.

The study found 80 per cent use cannabis in place of prescription 
drugs, 52 per cent use pot in place of alcohol and 33 per cent 
substitute cannabis for illegal drugs.

"We know alcohol to be the most criminogenic (likely to cause 
criminal behaviour) substance," Lucas said. "A reduction of alcohol 
use from a public health point of view, can be a very positive result 
of the study."

Citing its potential to reduce such negative health effects as HIV 
and other diseases from needle sharing by cocaine and heroin users, 
Lucas said "science has long shown cannabis is not a gateway drug."

Monday's Conservative defeat appears to have marked a turning point 
in the Canadian public's relationship with pot.

The party's policy - to increase funding for enforcement, and 
"prioritize research on the link between substance abuse and mental 
health" - marked it as the only major party not advocating a 
loosening in marijuana laws.

The NDP party platform is to decriminalize it, fund research into the 
effectiveness of medical marijuana and establish an independent 
commission to consult on the non-medical use of marijuana and guide 
Parliament on a regulatory regime.

The Green Party plan is to legalize marijuana and allow small, 
independent growers, tax it like tobacco, establish licensed 
distribution outlets for medicinal or personal use and educate the 
public about the health threats of marijuana, tobacco, and other drug 
use and launch a public consultation on the decriminalization of illicit drugs.

But the party platform that matters is that of the newly elected 
Liberals, who have promised to legalize and regulate marijuana for 
adults. While striking marijuana use and incidental possession from 
the Criminal Code, the party would create stronger laws to punish 
more severely those who provide it to minors, dive under the 
influence or sell it illegally.

Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau has stated he hopes to have 
the legislation in place fairly quickly.

"I can't say whether it will happen in three months, but we have some 
bigger issues" said defeated Nanaimo-Ladysmith Liberal candidate Tim 
Tessier. "Our first priority and our first bill we'll put forward is 
to reduce taxes to the middle class."

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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom