Pubdate: Mon, 16 Apr 2018
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Toronto Star
Author: Matthew M. Elrod


Some remain skeptical the proposed Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) will
achieve one of its primary objectives: protecting youth from
cannabis-related harms. Some feel the minimum age should be higher
than the minimum age for alcohol, worried that those under 25 seem
more vulnerable to dependence and health problems linked to long-term,
heavy use.

Critics of the proposed minimum age may be overlooking another primary
objective: displacing the black-market. Young adults aged 18 to 24
represent one third of the market. The act attempts to strike a
balance between keeping marijuana away from minors and cash away from

Bill C-45 enables the provinces to harmonize their minimum age for
cannabis and alcohol. Setting the minimum age for cannabis higher
would send a dangerously misleading message that alcohol is safer.

The minimum age won't delineate consumers from abstainers, but rather
consumers who obtain labelled, quality-controlled cannabis from
licensed sources from those who continue to purchase nondescript
cannabis of unknown potency, purity and provenance on the black
market.Article Continued Below

Some have misinterpreted the plan to decriminalize possession of 5
grams or less by youth 12 to 17 as "allowing" them to possess personal
amounts, but the provinces are implementing more age-appropriate
remedies, such as they employ with minors in possession of alcohol;
confiscation, fines, referral to parents and health professionals,

Most of the harms associated with cannabis are attributed to heavy
use. Happily, of the roughly 25 per cent of Canadian youth who report
using cannabis in the past year, only 1 to 2 per cent are daily consumers.

Daily consumers are often self-medicating psychological problems, such
as ADHD and PTSD, they might otherwise treat with more dangerous
drugs. Indeed, contrary to the "gateway theory," there is a growing
body of evidence that cannabis is an economic substitute for alcohol,
opiates and pharmaceuticals.

A secondary objective of Bill C-45 is to protect consumers from the
harms of prohibition, such as unregulated cannabis products, exposure
to more dangerous illicit substances, systemic violence and crippling
criminal sanctions, disproportionately meted out to youth and
racialized groups.

Yes, cannabis strains and extracts that are high in the psychoactive
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but low in the antipsychotic cannabidiol
(CBD) may trigger psychosis in a few predisposed youth, but these
products are yet another unintended (yet tragically predictable)
consequence of prohibition.

Traffickers favour more potent and concealable products. Under alcohol
prohibition, beer and wine gave way to moonshine and spirits. Coca
became crack. Opium morphed into fentanyl. After the U.S. sprayed
Mexican fields with herbicides, the mild herb baby boomers might
remember was replaced with higher quality Colombian, later replaced by
domestic "skunk weed" refined into "dabs" and "shatter."

Some fret that allowing adults to grow up to four plants per residence
will increase access for minors, but it's in the owner's interest to
prevent theft, if not by decree then by lock and key. Households may
contain tobacco, firearms, home-brewing, liquor, detergent pods,
gasoline and pharmaceuticals, often secured by nothing more than
parental oversight.

Prohibition impedes and competes with research, education, prevention,
harm reduction and treatment. What has a near century of prohibition
accomplished? Canadian youth are among the heaviest consumers in the
industrialized world, they find cannabis as, or more readily,
available than alcohol, they are twice as likely to try cannabis than
try tobacco before they graduate from high school and their average
age of initiation is 14.

Preliminary data from jurisdictions that have legalized adult cannabis
use show little to no impact on youth usage rates. Bill C-45 is more
restrictive than commercial regimes in the U.S. It prohibits providing
cannabis to youth and products appealing to youth, and it mandates
warning labels on plain, child-resistant packaging.

The bill creates a new offence for involving minors in cultivation and
distribution. The black market offers young Canadians entry-level jobs
that require no education, training, experience, or income tax. Drug
dealing is more glamorous and lucrative than babysitting or flipping

Let's face it. We have more control over cat food than the so-called
"controlled drugs and substances." We can do better, and as federal
laws and provincial regulations evolve, we certainly will.

- -------------------------------------------------------------------

Matthew Elrod is a librarian by day and has been a drug policy reform
advocate for over 20 years.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt