Pubdate: Mon, 18 Apr 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Grant Robertson
Page: A3


Managing Social Norms Is As Important As Rewriting the Rules of 
Cannabis Consumption in Canada, Conference Hears

As the Trudeau government prepares to draw up legislation that would 
legalize marijuana for recreational use, leading policy experts in 
the United States have some pointed advice for Canada: Rules are 
important, but cultivating unwritten social standards around how 
people use the drug are just as crucial.

In states such as Colorado and Washington, where prohibition of 
cannabis has been lifted, lawmakers have seen recreational marijuana 
use soar. While that has pumped welcome tax dollars into government 
coffers, it has also led to problems with public consumption, overuse 
and intoxicated driving.

"Do it cautiously," Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New 
York University, said at an international conference on cannabis 
policy on Sunday. "A bunch of the mistakes that are happening in the 
U.S. don't have to happen in Canada."

In several states and countries, the debate over marijuana 
legalization is no longer over whether to do it, but how to do it 
properly, Mr. Kleiman said. His comments came on the first day of the 
conference, where policy leaders from around the world gathered to 
discuss how to properly roll out legalization.

The two-day cannabis summit is scheduled to discuss Canada's plans 
for legalization in depth on Monday, an indication that the Liberal 
government's intentions are being watched closely by policy makers 
around the world.

"You want people who want [marijuana] to be able to get it, but you 
don't want anybody to be pushing it at them," Mr. Kleiman said after 
addressing an audience that included academics, doctors and 
representatives from top research firms such as Rand Corp., which has 
been tapped in the U.S. to study the impact of legalization on the 
economy and society.

Mr. Kleiman and Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of public policy at 
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, are leading a push for 
governments to think of marijuana less as a commodity and more as 
sugary foods or gambling - "temptation goods" that must be treated 
carefully so that overuse doesn't end up burdening society.

To do this, legislators must think about more than just laws, but 
about fostering social habits that can promote responsible use, Mr. 
Caulkins said. Alcohol consumption has been shaped this way - with 
varying degrees of success - over the past several decades, using a 
mixture of legislation and social influence.

"Some people, as a social norm, don't drink alcohol before lunch. 
That's not a law, it's not a regulation, it's just a social norm," he said.

"So if we are honest about the potential to lose control of cannabis 
use, then we might as a society - outside of the political process - 
want to try to create social norms to control use."

Doing so is easier said than done, Mr. Caulkins admitted. There are 
only so many ways to shape consumer habits beyond writing rules, such 
as using advertising and public service announcements. Now that 
governments such as Canada are pursuing legalization, though, those 
strategies will be needed to prevent larger problems, particularly 
when laws alone are not enough.

"Most people now know that it's wrong to drive while intoxicated by 
alcohol; a distressing proportion of cannabis users think it's just 
fine to drive soon after using marijuana," Mr. Caulkins said, citing 
survey data in the United States.

Since legalization began in some states, marijuana use has risen 
sharply. In 1992, there were 10 times as many daily or near-daily 
alcohol users as there were daily marijuana users in the United 
States, the conference heard. But the pattern of marijuana use has 
understandably accelerated with easier access to the product. Daily 
and near-daily use of marijuana compared with alcohol "has fallen 
below two to one," Mr. Caulkins said.

"Most people are very happy with their cannabis use, but I think 
there will be a substantial number of people who are going to be 
harmed by this corporate, commercialized regime that we are 
creating," he told the conference.

Companies that produce marijuana will be inclined to market their 
product aggressively in search of profit, so jurisdictions will need 
to be wary about the impact on recreational consumption, he suggested.

"The children of today are going to go through their adolescence and 
young adulthoods living in worlds where marijuana is cheap, 
ubiquitous and heavily marketed," Mr. Caulkins said. In addition to 
writing rules around legalization, "it is our obligation to construct 
informal social norms to take the place of those formal social 
controls that are being removed," he said.

Should Canada legalize marijuana, it would join Uruguay in permitting 
cannabis to be broadly purchased and consumed for non-medical and 
non-religious reasons, surpassing jurisdictions such as the 
Netherlands, which allows use, but only in designated cafes.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom