Pubdate: Thu, 04 May 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: James Wood
Page: A12


The prospect of legal marijuana in 2018 is raising alarm among
anti-smoking advocates, while some public health experts are hopeful
legalization will prove to be a greater benefit than risk.

In April, the federal Liberal government unveiled a plan to legalize
recreational pot for those over 18 by July of next year.

Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH),
said he doesn't oppose legalization but believes public health is
taking a back seat to commercial and political interests as the
Trudeau government speeds toward legal weed.

A key worry is that marijuana will "renormalize" smoking in public
after decades of efforts to curtail tobacco use.

"We cannot allow marijuana legalization to threaten this enormous
public health achievement," Hagen said in a recent submission to the
City of Edmonton.

In an interview, Hagen said cannabis legalization could have a major
effect on tobacco use, pointing to an Ontario study that suggests
close to one-third of marijuana smokers mix in tobacco.

"Which substance are you more likely to get addicted to, which one is
more likely to kill you? It's not the cannabis. So that's a huge
concern," said Hagen, who wants Edmonton and Calgary to ensure their
city smoking bylaws cover marijuana.

The Canadian Cancer Society does not have an official position on
legalization but is concerned that long-term marijuana smoking could
increase an individual's risk of cancer, though the research is patchy
compared with tobacco.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the society, said marijuana
smoke contains many of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke, though
consumption is generally considerably lower.

He said it's incumbent for provinces to ensure that existing
restrictions on smoking apply to marijuana.

Alberta has yet to proclaim sections of the Tobacco Reduction
Amendment Act of 2013 that would accomplish that restriction, said

"That's just a quick switch to be flipped to implement that in
Alberta," he said.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman's office said in a statement that the
government was still reviewing the federal legislation to determine
its implications on provincial law, and the province needed to do
further consultations before bringing its tobacco bill into force.

"We are, of course, considering the health impacts as health and
safety of Albertans is our top priority," said Hoffman's press
secretary, Timothy Wilson.

Officials from the provincial health ministry and Alberta Health
Services declined to comment for this story.

The federal legalization scheme will leave significant decisions to
the province, including how cannabis will be distributed. The federal
bill also sets a minimum age for users at 18 - currently the legal
drinking and smoking age in Alberta - but provinces can choose to
implement higher age limits.

The cancer society's Cunningham said there is a significant push by
advocacy groups to raise the legal smoking age for both marijuana and
tobacco to 21, a limit adopted in many American jurisdictions.

The Canadian Medical Association has recommended a nationwide ban on
pot use for those under the age of 21, and restrictions on the
quantity and potency for people under 25. Beyond other potential
health effects from marijuana use, the physicians group said marijuana
can affect brain development in youth that is not complete until age

But Rebecca Haines-Saah, assistant professor in the Department of
Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, said a
legal age of 18 makes sense because people in the 18 to 24 demographic
are the greatest users of cannabis.

Forcing those users to turn to an illegal source makes no sense,
especially given Ottawa's stated commitment to public safety and
desire to wipe out the illicit marijuana trade, she said.

The World Health Organization pegs Canada as having the highest rate
of use of marijuana among youth in the developed world, at an
estimated 30 per cent.

Haines-Saah, main organizer of a U of C forum on cannabis legalization
and public health on May 5, said the experience in jurisdictions such
as Colorado and Washington where weed has been legalized suggest it's
likely there will not be an increased prevalence of use in either
youth or adults.

She said the use of edible cannabis products will likely mitigate the
concerns around smoking in the long run, though the federal government
won't have regulations around edibles in place when initial
legalization occurs next year.

But while Haines-Saah has no objection to consumption of marijuana on
a recreational or medical basis, she acknowledged there are potential
issues around marijuana as a legal product.

"I'm really concerned a free market model might dominate the space and
that ... we start promoting cannabis as a lifestyle to be used for
every activity and every mood," she said.

Overall though, she believes Ottawa is taking the right approach by
legalizing while ensuring tight regulation.

"We absolutely have evidence that prohibition has failed as a policy,"
she said.
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