Pubdate: Sat, 22 Apr 2017
Source: Tribune, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017, Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Rick Prins
Page: A7


I have to admit, I felt less than enthusiastic a few weeks ago when I
heard the Canadian government was going to follow through on its
promise to legalize cannabis.

We knew this was an election promise the Liberals were destined to
keep. And yet, I did not share the enthusiasm of the activists blowing
smoke on camera as the dates for introducing the legislation and the
July 2018 implementation were announced. I am pretty much a law and
order kind of citizen. My exposure to cannabis has mainly been limited
to the times when I encountered teens smoking in parks, behind high
schools or occasionally in high school washrooms. My only addiction,
at least what I am willing to admit publicly, is dark roast coffee.

And so as I started writing this article, I realized I carry a lot of
preconceptions. Some of these, I discovered as I read and looked at
what was being proposed were false. Some of them are concerns I still

For example, in my mind, to legalize is to normalize. And to normalize
is likely to increase availability and usage. I don't look forward to
a day when my freedom to walk around is impeded by those smoking
cannabis in public places, as now occasionally happens with tobacco. I
assumed (and I know people for whom this is true) cannabis is a
starter drug, and some progress to harder drugs. And I know of the
devastation the health and social effects cannabis addiction can have.

All of this is coloured by a huge question mark in my mind about the
political motivation for this change. It feels like the government is
caving into a wild west cannabis culture that took advantage of our
current medical cannabis laws, assumed we are in a legal limbo pending
future legalization, and have flouted the law by opening up
dispensaries that are unregulated and illegal. At the same time, the
lucrative nature of a legalized industry and the tax windfall are
often mentioned in news reports from other jurisdictions.

My comments here have nothing to do with the medical uses of
marijuana. I have no doubt that for many sufferers, cannabis provides
them with relief from pain found in no other medication and our laws
already support that.

Cannabis is just one substance among many that cause our society huge
suffering and cost.

MADD Canada reports that in 2012, 728 Ontarians were killed in traffic
fatalities, 14.6 per cent of these were caused by alcohol alone, 30
per cent by drugs alone, and 19 per cent by a combination of drugs and

In December 2016, Niagara Regional Police reported an uptick in the
number of impaired driving arrests, to 525 from the previous year's

Niagara Region reports nearly 17 per cent of Niagara youth aged 12 to
19 admit consuming five or more drinks on one occasion. More than 25
per cent of Niagara high school students in grades 9 to 12 admit
having used cannabis in the past year, and more than 14 per cent of
Niagara high school students report having driven while under the
influence of cannabis. Cannabis use statistics for Niagara students
are overall higher than provincial averages.

So what possible benefit to Canadian society can come from proposed
cannabis legislation?

We can start with the premise that current, restrictive laws are not
effective in curbing widespread use and potentially criminalize users.
Bringing distribution and use under the law's umbrella at least gives
the government some control over the issue, and potentially gives it
more power to mitigate the effects. The proposed law provides for
production, distribution and use patterns similar to those currently
in place for alcohol and tobacco.

Provinces will have power to set a minimum age for purchase.
Restrictions on advertising, packaging, location of sale, co-use with
other foods and drugs are part of the legislation. The proposal is to
use tax revenue generated to fund administration, education, research
and enforcement. Libertarians have complained that the legislation is
too restrictive, and no doubt some of the market will continue to
operate underground as it currently does. Underage users will continue
to find ways to access cannabis as they currently do.

Health Minister Jane Philpott has in recent months announced major new
federal funding and initiatives to support mental health programs, as
well as help fight the opioid crisis that is exemplified by fentanyl
deaths. She points to the need for four pillars in Canada's drug
strategy, these being prevention, treatment, law enforcement and harm

One would assume that the cannabis legislation has been designed
within the overall framework of this strategy. We all realize the
limited role of government in influencing social behaviour.

No amount of government regulation, education or influence will
completely convince citizens of the dangers of substance abuse.
Nevertheless, it is my hope Canadians as a society and as individuals
will use all the resources at our disposal to help people cope with
the issues in their lives in ways that do not lead to addictions.
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