Pubdate: Sat, 06 May 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: Bill Kaufmann
Page: A3


Mental health is 25 per cent of the total disease burden so we have a
massive imbalance in spending on public health.

Alberta needs to better prepare its health-care system for marijuana
legalization, an academic told a Calgary seminar on the watershed drug
reforms said Friday.

While Cam Wild praised Ottawa's approach to legalizing the
recreational use of the drug, he said the province has considerable
work to do in the medical field to ensure the move's success.

A priority should be dedicating tax revenues raised from pot sales to
mental health and addictions programs, rather than putting them into
general revenues, said Wild, of the University of Alberta's School of
Public Health.

That's the policy followed by states that have legalized recreational
pot, such as California, Washington and Oregon, he said.

"That concept is foreign to us," he said.

He noted in 2015-16 that Alberta took slightly more than $3 billion in
sin taxes - from tobacco, alcohol and gambling - compared to $2.8
billion from non-renewable resources.

"Look at the amount we've put into general coffers from legal
addictive behaviours without cannabis legalization," he told those
gathered at the conference hosted by the University of Calgary's
O'Brien Institute for Public Health.

Alberta's health care spending priorities, which devote four to five
per cent of total health care expenditures to mental health and
addictions, also need to change ahead of marijuana legalization
scheduled to take effect in July 2018, said Wild. And only 20 per cent
of that, he said, is funnelled to addictions treatment.

"Mental health is 25 per cent of the total disease burden so we have a
massive imbalance in spending on public health," he said.

Alberta, he said, also needs better information on the scope of
marijuana use and abuse in the province, though research shows about
11 per cent of Albertans over the age of 15 have used marijuana in the
past year.

The conference also heard Albertans' views on cannabis tend to
underestimate the medical harm the drug poses.

But Wild said Ottawa's middle ground on legalization, accompanied by
with strict rules avoids unregulated climates in both the black and
legal markets, and has probably found "a sweet spot."

And an American expert on the issue said the federal government has
taken a methodical, comprehensive approach to the process,
particularly when compared to U.S. states.

"In the U.S., there isn't much discussion and the initiatives get put
on a ballot," said Dr. Beau Kilmer, senior researcher with the RAND
Drug Policy Research Center.

"The federal government here has spent a lot of time talking to people
inside and outside the country and the report that resulted was a
great launching pad," said Kilmer, referring to a federal task force
report released last November.
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MAP posted-by: Matt