Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jan 2018
Source: Burnaby Now, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Lower Mainland Publishing Group Inc.
Author: Keith Baldrey


Will the selling of marijuana in liquor stores result in poor health
outcomes, higher health costs and more impaired driving?

The answer, according to two credible and well-respected medical
professionals, is a resounding "yes," and it's an answer they are
trying to get the NDP government to sit up and take notice of.

Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s long-serving chief provincial health
officer, and Dr. Marcus Lem, the chairman of the Health Officers
Council of B.C., are leading the charge against what is a widespread
assumption that liquor stores will indeed be the primary outlet for
the sales of cannabis once it becomes legal on July 1st.

So far, Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth, the government's point man
on the legalization file, has only said that points-of-sale will
include a mixture of private and public outlets. He hasn't said yet
whether liquor stores will be used, but he dropped a big hint that's
what he's thinking when he announced the provincial Liquor
Distribution Branch will be overseeing the distribution of cannabis.

It seems a little late in the game to convince the NDP to back off
from the idea of using liquor stores, but Kendall and Lem are giving
it a shot. Last month they penned an op-ed in The Vancouver Sun,
outlining their concerns, which are many.

They argue that, among other things, making marijuana available in
such a broad fashion (there are an astonishing 868 public and private
liquor stores in B.C.) would inevitably increase the usage of
cannabis. Close to 80 per cent of British Columbians consume alcohol,
while they point out just 17 per cent use cannabis, and that number
will surely go up significantly.

As usage of cannabis increases, so too does some inevitable unwanted
health outcomes, not the least of which is impaired driving, the two
doctors argue. Farnworth is grappling with changing various laws to
deal with people who drive while impaired after using marijuana, and
he admits it is a very tricky problem to solve.

As I've noted here before, Farnworth estimates at least 18 separate
pieces of legislation have to be significantly amended to accommodate
the legalization of cannabis, and the impaired driving concerns may be
the hardest nut to crack.

There is also the significant concern that people who, because of
addiction issues, should avoid even entering liquor stores may find
themselves having to do just that if they want to purchase cannabis.
The doctors note, correctly, that the LDB and liquor stores are driven
by a desire to increase accessibility, which can produce higher profit
margins, a model that runs counter to public health protection.

The NDP government has been pressured by the B.C. Government Employees
Union, whose members staff government liquor stores, to make those
stores cannabis outlets, arguing their folks are properly trained in
the proper sale of alcohol and therefore can be counted on to act
responsibly when selling cannabis.

The union has even formed an odd alliance of sorts with the B.C.
Private Liquor Store Association to present the argument they should
be the cannabis dealerships. They reject the argument that so many
outlets would increase consumption.

But the doctors are convinced legalization will give rise to serious
health concerns.

"We are particularly concerned about any proposed sale of cannabis in
liquor stores because this would present a substantial proportion of
currently non-using British Columbians with an increased opportunity
to purchase it, thereby resulting in higher population levels of use
and harms," the two doctors wrote.

Now, Kendall and Lem are not anonymous medical doctors. They are
high-profile and credible professionals, whose views on most public
health issues have guided much government health policy over the years.

Kendall has played a pivotal role over the years on issues ranging
from flu epidemics, the SARS outbreak, the opioid crisis, the
emergence of AIDS/HIV, just to name a few.

It will be interesting to see if their views prevail on a huge issue
that is about to confront the B.C. government and other governments
across the country.

For now, it seems they may be losing the argument. But if the die is
not cast on this issue quite yet, the government may be wise to listen
to two folks whose advice over the years has served the public well.
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