Pubdate: Tue, 18 Apr 2017
Source: Catholic Register, The (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Catholic Register
Author: Deborah Gyapong


OTTAWA - Legalizing marijuana shows a "disregard" for public health
and safety, Canada's Catholic bishops charge.

The bishops' statement came one day before the Liberal government
announced the introduction April 13 in the House of Commons of the
Cannabis Act, which will eventually "legalize, regulate and restrict
access" to marijuana.

"From the standpoint of public health, not only does this course of
action appear to be unwise, it is potentially dangerous," said the
statement signed by the president of the Canadian Conference of
Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton. "The very
significant health risks associated with the use of cannabis are
widely recognized, particularly in young people."

In addition to all the risks associated with tobacco smoke, such as
heart attack, stroke and cancers, marijuana is associated with a
heightened risk in "a multitude of psychiatric disorders, including
schizophrenia," the statement said. It also described marijuana as a
"gateway drug" that often leads to the use of more powerful illegal

"At a time when so many resources are already being spent to
discourage recreational tobacco use, it is difficult to comprehend the
disregard for public safety entailed in legalizing marijuana, which is
arguably much more dangerous," the bishops' statement said.

The government is hoping to have the legislation passed by July 1,
2018. It is also promising to beef up penalties for those who sell
cannabis to those under 18 and to tighten up impaired driving laws.

"Youth are at the centre of the effort," Minister Philpott said at a
news conference that also included Justice Minister Jody
Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and the
Parliamentary Secretary of the Minister of Justice Bill Blair.
Philpott acknowledged the health risks of cannabis to those whose
brains are still developing and noted the government already had a
public education investment of more than $9 million to discourage
marijuana use in its recent budget.

Goodale said if the objective of the existing laws was to "keep
cannabis out of the hands of minors" and to "stop organized crime,"
they have been an "abject failure."

Canadian teenagers are among the heaviest marijuana users in the
western world, he said. At the same time "criminals pocket about $7 to
$8 billion in profits."

The proposed legislation "will do a better job of protecting our kids
and fighting organized crime," he said.

Blair, Toronto's former chief of police, said the legislation will be
directed "toward more healthful, safer and more socially responsible
use," so the decision to sell or not to sell is not "being made by
some gangster in a stairwell."

The legislation will beef up penalties for impaired driving and
include mandatory testing, even without a reasonable suspicion on the
part of police. Wilson-Raybould said she believes the mandatory
testing will pass constitutional challenge.

The bishops included concern about alcohol abuse in their statement,
calling it the most common form of "chemical addiction" that costs
society an estimated $14.6 billion a year.

The bishops also tackled Canada's "serious substance abuse crisis,"
particularly the "alarming" increase in deaths due to overdoses on new
forms of opioids. It pointed to the underlying causes, such as
poverty, family breakdown, violence and underlying mental illness.

The bishops also noted the high rates of abuse in indigenous
communities due to intergenerational trauma.

The CCCB statement opposes "harm reduction" models such as needle
exchange programs, or "safe" injection sites, quoting Pope Francis,
who said "the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs."

"Governments have a moral responsibility to ensure that, in addressing
this crisis, communities be equipped with universally accessible and
up-to-date rehabilitation methods and recovery programs," the bishops

The bishops had several recommendations, including urging the
government to tighten regulation of opioid manufacturing and improved
pain management training for physicians and care providers.

The bishops concluded their statement with Jesus' role in healing.
"Persons who suffer from addiction should take comfort in the
knowledge that Jesus wishes them to be well and that the Lord
continues to pour forth his grace and blessings upon us."

The full statement is available at the website.
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