HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Health, Business Interests At Odds Over Pot Policies
Pubdate: Mon, 11 Sep 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Contact:  http://www.calgaryherald.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/66
Author: James Wood
Page: A1

HEALTH, BUSINESS INTERESTS AT ODDS OVER POT POLICIES

AHS: Consider unifying minimum age for cannabis, liquor, tobacco

Alberta Health Services says the provincial government should consider
a minimum age of 21 for consumption of legal cannabis - and
potentially raise the minimum age for smoking tobacco and drinking
alcohol to match.

In its submission to the NDP government's cannabis secretariat, the
provincial health authority also says the government should be in
control of distribution and retail of marijuana when it becomes legal
next year and calls for bans on public smoking and promotion of
cannabis use.

The brief urges the province to take a public health approach to
regulating legal marijuana focusing on minimizing harm and protecting
the health and safety of Alberta.

While the submission does not explicitly recommend setting 21 as the
legal age for consumption of marijuana, it says that "delaying use is
one of the best ways to reduce the risk of harm to the developing brain."

It notes that numerous public health bodies are calling for 21 as the
minimum and others are calling for the ages for legal consumption of
alcohol, tobacco and cannabis to be aligned.

Alberta's legal age for drinking and smoking tobacco is
18.

"Cannabis legalization represents an opportunity for Alberta to
consider raising the tobacco and alcohol minimum age," says the
submission written by Dr. Gerald Predy, AHS's chief medical officer of
health.

AHS declined to comment further or make Predy available for an
interview. The brief from AHS was just one of more than 60 written
submissions received by the government through its consultation
process, with age a recurring issue. The Alberta Medical Association
came out firmly for setting 21 as the legal age for pot consumption,
while a submission by two health researchers at the University of
Calgary argued for 18, saying the health risks have been overstated in
many cases.

Hospitality industry bodies, such as the Alberta Hotel and Lodging
Association and the Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association,
also called for a minimum age of 18.

"Instituting a higher legal age than the age for liquor and tobacco
use will likely lead to more of an illegal market for cannabis," said
the submission from the Banff group.

Alberta's NDP government has not yet outlined its approach in areas
such as taxation, minimum ages and retail systems, all of which will
fall under the responsibility of the provinces as the Liberal
government moves to legalize marijuana on July 1, 2018.

Ontario became the first province to address some of the issues last
week, with the government announcing plans for the Liquor Control
Board of Ontario - the Crown corporation that operates the province's
liquor stores - to set up a network of stand-alone pot retailers.

While Alberta has no government-run liquor stores, AHS said the
province should be in control of cannabis sales.

"A government controlled system of distribution and retail would be
most effective to ensure that public health goals (not profit) are the
primary consideration for policy development," said the report.

The Alberta Liquor Stores Association, however, believes cannabis
sales should be done through the province's 1,400 liquor retailers,
which are regulated by the government.

"We have a proven record of safely delivering alcohol to Albertans
daily, thanks to trained staff, responsible marketing communications
and genuine connections to the communities we live and operate in,"
said ALSA's submission.

That was opposed by the Association of Canadian Distillers, which
noted that the federal task force on legalization had recommended
against the co-location of alcohol and marijuana sales as "an
increased health and safety risk."

The Cannabis Canada Association, one of a number of cannabis
businesses or industry groups that made submissions to the government,
said private competitive retail is the best option. In contrast to
AHS, it also said marijuana companies need some ability to advertise
and promote their products because of the lack of public information
available.

The Alberta College of Pharmacists, meanwhile, is adamant that
marijuana not be sold through pharmacies because of the potential
health issues associated with cannabis use.

Numerous submissions to the government addressed issues such as
driving under the influence of cannabis and safety on work sites.

Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said
there is a fight going on around cannabis legalization between health
and commercial concerns.

Hagen said the AHS submission in particular is a needed corrective to
what he sees as a "full-throttle" push to commercialize legal
marijuana by the Trudeau government, with Alberta potentially
following Ottawa's direction.

"I see Alberta moving in lockstep with the status quo ... rather than
saying public health is more than lip service," he said.

The government did not make Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley available
for an interview Friday.

But, in a statement, the province said that it met with over 100
stakeholder groups, including law-enforcement, industry and Indigenous
groups, and that it received over 45,000 responses to its online
survey on cannabis legalization - "one of the most successful
government surveys in Alberta's history."

When the government releases its draft this fall, it will set off
another round of consultations, said spokeswoman Jennifer Mitok.

"This will provide more opportunities for Albertans to share their
input on the approach proposed in the cannabis framework."
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MAP posted-by: Matt