Pubdate: Tue, 22 Dec 2015
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard
Page: A11



Impending legalization has allowed 'potpreneurs' to flourish, but our 
efforts should be focused on health-centred regulation

It is estimated that there are now more than 200 marijuana 
dispensaries across Canada. They are most visible in Vancouver, 
Victoria and Toronto, but now they are springing up just about everywhere.

These dispensaries - which are illegal - are strange beasts: To 
purchase the products - dried, oil or edibles - you need a 
prescription for "medical" marijuana. Most dispensaries will refer 
you to a doctor who is happy to write a script for what ails you, 
such as pain (real or imagined).

In Canada, if you have a prescription, you can also purchase medical 
marijuana directly from state-sanctioned suppliers and they will 
courier it to your home.

But now some dispensaries are not bothering with the 
nudge-nudge-wink-wink of prescription and selling pot to anyone who 
will sign a waiver saying they need it for medical reasons.

These businesses are proliferating because there is a grey zone 
created by the new Liberal government's promise to legalize marijuana 
possession, and its failure to provide concrete details on how it 
intends to do so.

There are two basic ways to control availability of drugs such as 
marijuana: criminal prohibition and administrative regulation.

Criminal prohibition has not worked: It has proved costly and 
ineffective. Pot is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol, but it is 
not benign. The best approach to reducing harm is to replace 
criminalization with health-focused regulation.

This point was made eloquently by the Centre for Addiction and Mental 
Health in a document titled "Cannabis Policy Framework." The report 
makes a number of sound recommendations, including: Setting a minimum 
age for cannabis purchase and consumption Limiting availability 
Curbing demand through pricing and taxation

Curtailing higher-risk products and formulations

Prohibiting marketing, advertising and sponsorship

Clearly displaying product information, including labelling THC 
(tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) content Addressing the 
risk of cannabis-impaired driving Enhancing access to treatment 
Investing in education and prevention.

CAMH researchers also recommend, first and foremost, a government 
monopoly on sales of cannabis products.

Before blithely accepting dispensaries as a normal part of the urban 
landscape, we need to ask ourselves, 1) if marijuana is a legitimate 
prescription drug and, 2) if stand-alone private businesses are the 
appropriate method for distribution of marijuana, "medical" or otherwise.

There is a little bit of evidence (and, yes, plenty of anecdote) that 
marijuana is useful for treatment of some conditions, such as nausea and pain.

But if cannabis is a legitimate prescription medicine, then shouldn't 
it be subject to the same rules as other drugs, including being 
tested in clinical trials, packaged in measurable doses and sold in pharmacies?

And why should we put conscientious physicians in the uncomfortable 
position of having to prescribe a sort-of-prescription drug that they 
know, in many cases, will actually be used for recreational purposes?

There are an estimated 500,000 users of medical marijuana in Canada 
over the age of 25: 24,000 of them purchase the drug from 
state-approved suppliers; roughly 200,000 buy from grey-market 
dispensaries; and almost 300,000 on the black market. Those numbers 
don't even include "recreational" users.

Obviously, the time has come to fundamentally revamp our approach to 
pot. But public policy should be implemented deliberately and 
thoughtfully, not by pretending current regulations don't exist and 
allowing dubious approaches to fill the void.

The move to legalization should be guided by public health officials, 
not potpreneurs. One of the key questions that flows from a promise 
of legalization is: Where will marijuana be sold? There are many 
possible options:

In state-controlled outlets, the way beer and liquor is sold in many 
provinces In corner stores, in the same way as cigarettes

In so-called coffee shops, as is done in the Netherlands

In stand-alone dispensaries - with or without prescription

What we have now is none of the above, with marijuana sold in 
unregulated, glorified head shops, or by mail order.

These approaches are, medically and legally, as preposterous as they 
are ridiculous.

The sale of marijuana is going to be legalized in Canada. The 
priority should be reducing harm, and the best way of doing so is 
with a state-controlled monopoly or, at the very least, firm 
regulation of private sales.

We need to dispense with the Wild West of unregulated pot dispensaries.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom