Pubdate: Sat, 12 Dec 2015
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2015 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: William Marsden, Special to the Washington Post


Neighbors to North Look to U.S. Experience

MONTREAL - For police forces across Canada, August is harvest time.

Officers slip on their coveralls, grab thick gardening gloves, 
shoulder machetes and begin the annual ritual of chopping down 
marijuana plants hidden in cornfields, remote mountain valleys and 
forest clearings.

If the grower is unlucky enough to be caught redhanded, he is cuffed 
and taken off to court. Each police unit hits two or three of these 
hidden marijuana plantations, with the confiscated pot taken to 
incinerators. The destruction of marijuana plants goes on for about 
two weeks, and then it's back to normal police work.

Has this war on marijuana worked?

"No, it hasn't," said Clive Weighill, chief of the Saskatoon police 
force, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and 
a veteran of the August raids.

But times are beginning to change in Canada.

The new Liberal government has promised to act quickly to legalize 
marijuana for general use, which would make Canada the first G-20 
country to end cannabis prohibition on a national level.

Weighill is in favor.

"We are looking to the United States and the Colorado experience, the 
Washington experience, and we hope to learn from that," he said.

The opposition Conservative Party strongly opposes legalization, 
claiming it will make cannabis "more easily available to youth." 
During the recent election campaign, former Conservative Prime 
Minister Stephen Harper said marijuana is "infinitely worse" than 
tobacco and "is something we do not want to encourage."

But faced with a large Liberal majority supported by the socialist 
New Democratic Party, the Conservatives are powerless to stop legalization.

Although the war on drugs in Canada has been nowhere near as dramatic 
as the ones waged in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and the United States, 
it has nonetheless involved violence and consumed considerable 
financial and human resources.

In the late 1990s in Montreal, an outlaw biker gang war claimed 165 
lives and ended only after a crime reporter was shot seven times (he 
lived) and the Hells Angels threatened to assassinate politicians.

The violence was all about the control of illegal drug sales, 
including marijuana.

The Liberals point out that more than 600,000 Canadians have criminal 
records for simple possession of marijuana, and the number continues 
to grow. They say it is a needless destruction of lives.

Each year the federal government spends as much as 500 million 
Canadian dollars (roughly $374 million U.S.) on drug enforcement and 
prosecution, according to the auditor general.

About 50 million Canadian dollars go to raiding marijuana 
plantations. These figures do not include the money spent by 
provincial and municipal authorities.

Yet, a large number people still use cannabis.

For about a decade, studies have shown that past-year use among 
Canadians ages 15 to 24 is the highest in the developed world, with a 
recent study putting the rate at 24.6 percent. For adults 25 and 
over, the figure drops to 8 percent.

"Our system is badly, badly flawed," said Eugene Oscapella, a law 
professor at the University of Ottawa and longtime advocate for 
legalization. "I keep asking myself a question that I have been 
asking for 30 years: Could we have done a worse job if we tried? 
Could we have found a way to create more dysfunction than we managed 
to create?"

The Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, a federally funded research 
organization, has already cautioned against rushing into legalization.

After a fact-finding mission to Colorado and Washington, their 
experts' answer was to "go slow."

"We have to be clear on what our goal is, why are we doing this," 
Rebecca Jesseman, a specialist in performance mechanisms at the 
center, said. "Are we looking to promote public health? Are we 
looking to reduce youth access? Are we looking to cut out the black 
market? What is the primary goal, because that will also help us 
shape regulations, monitor our progress towards that goal and monitor 
our success."

She added that the center believes the dominant concern should be 
public health.

One of the more important lessons from Colorado was that the state appears to

of have lacked a clear sense of purpose and finds itself unable to 
control a growing industry that is targeting young people, she said.

"They are selling cannabis as candy," she said, referring to products 
laced with THC (the main psychoactive element in cannabis) sold under 
brand names such as Cherry Kush Lollipops, Ganja Joy, Keef Kat and Bubble Gum.

She noted that in the absence of regulations, companies will push the 
envelope to make a profit.

The center's director of research, Amy Porath-Waller, said the health 
effects of marijuana on adolescents have to be considered. Studies 
show that daily or weekly cannabis use can slow brain development, 
impair cognitive functioning, memory and decisionmaking.

But after a month of nonuse these impairments disappear, she said.

"It's not clear yet if these deficits last beyond a month, if they 
are permanent, irreversible," she said. "These are areas of active research."

Canada legalized medical marijuana about 15 years ago. Health Canada 
has so far issued 26 production and distribution licenses to about 20 

Recent mergers and acquisitions indicate an industry consolidation as 
companies compete for a bigger share of a still-developing business, 
which Health Canada claims has a potential of about 450,000 daily 
customers. At current prices, that represents an industry worth 1.2 
billion Canadian dollars $900 million U.S.

Canopy Growth, which operates out of a former Hershey's chocolate 
factory in the small town of Smiths Falls, Ontario, recently bought 
two additional medical pot producers and is eager to expand into the 
recreational market.

So too are investors. When Trudeau's Liberals won the October 
election, Canopy 's stock price jumped to $3.65, from $1.50, before 
falling back to the $2.30 to $2.50 range, which puts the company's 
value at about 220 million Canadian dollars.

Canopy, now the largest medical marijuana company in Canada, has 
7,300 registered medical customers and is "very well-positioned" to 
jump into the recreational market, company founder and CEO Bruce Linton said.

"We already have been ramping up to be ready for that," he said.

He said the medical marijuana production model should be transferred 
to general use.

Production has to be completely natural, using no chemicals. 
Packaging is restrained.

Sales could be made through the same type of government-owned outlets 
that sell alcohol in most of Canada.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom