Pubdate: Sat, 30 Jul 2016
Source: Guardian, The (CN PI)
Page: A11
Copyright: 2016 The Guardian, Charlottetown Guardian Group Incorporated
Author: Desmond Colohan
Note: Desmond Colohan, MD is P.E.I.'s chief coroner and has a keen 
interest in responsible public health policy.


Sizing up the legal use of marijuana

I recently completed a C.M.A. survey on the legalization of cannabis 
(marijuana) for recreational use. I would like to share my responses with you.

It's hard to argue against the responsible use of a plant product, 
which has been around for thousands of years and has been used as a 
social and personal lubricant since time immemorial. Mankind has 
always sought respite from the stresses of daily life through 
chemicals, and often we have turned to psychoactive plants. Relief 
has included meditation, exercise, religion, collegial organizations, 
psychotherapy, and illicit psychoactive drugs such as cocaine, heroin 
and LSD, licit drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as the 
consumption of fine foods.

Marijuana was legal in Canada until 1932. Interestingly, it wasn't 
criminalized in the United States until 1937, thanks to Harry 
Anslinger, a notorious racist and the first US Federal Drug Czar, who 
associated its use with Hispanics and Black musicians. He changed the 
spelling of its name to marijuana, which sounded more Hispanic to 
reinforce this purported relationship.

The regular use of cannabis is not without risk. Like other 
psychoactive drugs, risk increases with consumption. The more you use 
and the longer you consume, the greater your risk of suffering 
accidental injury, brain damage, mental health issues, various 
cancers and heart disease. The less you consume, the lower your risk. 
There is no level of consumption at which risk falls to zero. Your 
risk of becoming addicted to cannabis is about 10 per cent; are you 
prepared to accept that risk? If you use heroin regularly, your 
addiction risk is about 23 per cent, while if you use tobacco, your 
risk of becoming hooked is about 32 per cent. If you start using 
cannabis regularly when you're just 15 years old, your risk of 
developing schizophrenia is over four and a half times higher than if 
you wait until you're 18. Using marijuana regularly at any age still 
doubles your risk.

Our legal psychoactive drugs, tobacco and alcohol, are highly 
regulated. The consequences of illicit sale, purchase, 
overconsumption and damage resulting from consumption are spelled out 
in regulation and the criminal code. Marijuana should be treated no 
differently. There has to be federal and provincial/territorial 
control over the supply, distribution and sale of cannabis for 
recreational use. Until we better understand the ramifications of 
legalization, it should only be grown and sold only through licensed 
facilities. I don't believe that the black market for cannabis will 
disappear. As long as price and convenience are consumer drivers, 
there will always be people looking for the lowest price and easiest 
way to score their drug of choice, legally or illegally, but the vast 
majority of consumers will purchase and consume legally and responsibly.

We are entering uncharted waters here and should be very mindful of 
the experience of other jurisdictions, such as the USA, Portugal and 
the Netherlands. As a wise mentor once told me, "Start low and go slow."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom