Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jun 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


With cannabis legalization on the horizon next year, the federal
government must make it easier to study the potential medical benefits
of the drug and evaluate how ending prohibition might affect society,
according to an open letter to politicians from dozens of the
country's leading academics and public-health researchers who study
the drug.

"Under widespread global prohibition, cannabis research has been
limited by the criminalization and stigmatization of cannabis use and
users, leading to substantial gaps in knowledge around the harms and
benefits of both medical and non-medical cannabis," reads a letter
sent Monday to federal lawmakers on the letterhead of the BC Centre on
Substance Use, an organization funded by the provincial government to
study drugs.

"For example, although cannabis' role as a pain reliever is
increasingly well known, urgent questions remain about what effect
increasing access to medical cannabis might play in the response to
the ongoing opioid overdose crisis. Now is the time to ensure
biomedical, epidemiological, and social sciences cannabis research is
prioritized; supported with adequate funding; and facilitated through
reduced administrative barriers."

The letter was signed by noted researchers such as Julio Montaner, a
renowned HIV/AIDS researcher, and Mark Ware, a McGill pain researcher
and vicechair of Canada's recent federal panel on legalization, as
well as organizations such as the BC Cancer Agency and the Canadian
AIDS Society.

Uruguay is the only other country to have legalized the recreational
sale and use of marijuana, but sales have been slow to roll out and
the tiny South American country has a population about a 10th the size
of Canada.

That means Canada has an opportunity to provide the world's first
national case study on the dangers - and potential benefits - of cannabis.

But the letter states the researchers are worried that not enough is
being done to ensure quality data are being collected on how Canadians
are using medical and illegal cannabis right now - before legalization
changes people's habits.

Bureaucrats in Washington and Colorado have lamented that their states
were not properly collecting clear statistics and information on the
drug before they rolled out the legalization of recreational pot.

Health Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette said Monday that the
government has already taken action to start gathering this important
baseline data, noting a new Canadian Cannabis Survey "will monitor
patterns of and perceptions around cannabis use amongst Canadians,
including youth, on an annual basis."

She also noted the data gap will be addressed by last month's call for
research proposals by the government-funded Canadian Institutes of
Health Research.

That body is set to award 10 grants of up to $100,000 for yearlong
projects by next January, with the money becoming available March 1,

However, it is likely already too late to collect meaningful data
before next summer, when the laws are expected to change, according to
M.J. Milloy, an infectious-disease epidemiologist who is studying the
therapeutic effects of marijuana at the BC Centre on Substance Use.
That's because grant recipients must go through ethical reviews for
their research - which can take up to two months - and then must begin
the often onerous process of recruiting people "in the wild" to talk
about their cannabis use, he said.

"It's not a quick process and so it will be very challenging," Dr.
Milloy said. "We can't unring the bell as soon as they start selling
legal cannabis - that's it."

One example, he said, of where these data are so important is
regarding how much to tax legal cannabis.

"If we set the price too low we might in fact encourage problematic
use; if we set it too high the idea that the legal cannabis system
will replace the current cannabis system is unrealistic," said Dr.
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