HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ontario's Pot Plan Still Neglects Public Health
Pubdate: Sat, 09 Sep 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Gail Beck
Page: A10


Province ignoring advice of its physicians, notes Dr. Gail Beck.

Friday's announcement from Queen's Park on Ontario's approach to legal
marijuana did not properly address the need for a robust public-health
approach to be the foundation upon which cannabis and cannabis
products are made available to the public.

As a psychiatrist in Ontario who sees the impact of cannabis on young
people and their families every day, there were not enough specifics
about how the province plans to educate the public, and especially
youth, on the risks of cannabis use.

The evidence of the impact of cannabis dependence is well-documented
and the research with respect to the impact of regular cannabis use on
the developing brain is well-supported by medical research.

The brain continues to develop until age 25 and there is significant
evidence that cannabis use interferes with brain development. While
some have advocated for the minimum age to purchase marijuana to be
25, young Canadians are already using twice as much marijuana as any
other age group in Canada.

Young Canadians also have a higher rate of cannabis use than youth in
any other G8 country. With use being this high (20 per cent of
Canadians aged 16 to 24), it is more realistic to focus on reducing
cannabis use to the extent that is possible. The Canadian Medical
Association recommended setting a national standard where minimum
legal age for purchasing marijuana would be 21, but with restricted
strength and purchasing limits until age 25. These were also the
recommendations of the Canadian Psychiatric Association. The Ontario
government has clearly decided against following the advice of
Canada's doctors and psychiatrists, which gives cause for concern.

Most clinicians were hoping to hear from Health Minister Eric Hoskins
that there would be a plan to evaluate the extent to which legal
marijuana has an impact clinically. We know cannabis has an impact on
mental health. Why did we not hear how the province plans to prevent
the worst of that impact?

The province has access to public-health approaches that are known to
be effective, such as the Smoke-Free Ontario quit-smoking campaign,
which shows how skilled the health ministry can be at developing
public health campaigns. When we already know that young Ontarians are
using cannabis at such a high rate when it's illegal, do we not want
to know how the government plans to prevent that prevalence of use
from increasing?

Those of us who see the impact of marijuana overuse and dependence
have faced the legalization of marijuana with a strong call for a
public-health focus. In fact, from our experience of alcohol overuse
and dependence, we know that regulation may well be a benefit.

However, our concern is mental health and its heartbreaking effects.
Addressing the results of cannabis use in clinical settings, with
struggling patients and their families, we were hoping to see the
government's public health plan today.

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Dr. Gail Beck is the clinical director of the Youth Psychiatry Program 
at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.
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