With the Oct. 17 legalization date just around the corner, there is more and more talk about the pros and cons of legalization. Since Canada doesn’t have any past experience to rely on, much of what we know is based on the boons, trials and tribulations various states have and continue to experience in the US, as well as other countries where legalization has been in effect for some time.
No one really knows how legalization will ultimately roll out in Canada, but here are a few arguments that can be made from both sides of the recreational cannabis legalization debate.
Cannabis use will not increase among teens
According to the Policy Project, a U.S. organization that leads marijuana legalization campaigns, “Study after study has confirmed that marijuana policy reforms do not cause rates of youth marijuana use to increase ... The most in-depth state surveys suggest modest decreases in rates of youth marijuana use in Colorado and Washington.”
In fact, a 2018 report by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration further indicates that despite having retail cannabis shops in Colorado and Washington since 2014, cannabis use among teens in those states was lower in 2015-16 than in 2014-15.
Marijuana use harms the brain, thus legalization will increase mental health problems
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cannabis use may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, depression and other psychiatric disorders. Studies from Northwestern and Harvard researchers found that recreational marijuana smokers showed abnormalities in the shape, volume and density of certain areas of the brain. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry concludes that there is good evidence that taking cannabis leads to acute adverse mental effects in a high proportion of regular users. A survey published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal also reports that 22 per cent of cannabis users experience “acute anxiety or panic attacks following cannabis use,” and 15 per cent have psychotic symptoms following use.
Legalizing marijuana can save costly enforcement of the current cannabis laws and free up police resources
Almost 70 per cent of the arrest related to cannabis are for possession, something that will decrease when it becomes legal. Every hour spent looking for and enforcing cannabis laws, reduces the amount of time that could be spent on other issues related to public safety.
Legalizing cannabis leads to more marijuana-related medical emergencies
According to Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, after retail cannabis stores opened in Colorado, emergency room visits related to cannabis shot up nearly 30 per cent and hospitalizations rose 200 per cent. Some of the issues include increased breathing-related issues caused by cannabis inhalation including asthma, bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infections; an increase in psychiatric needs; accidental or intentional overdoses; and increased pediatric patients with cannabis-related issues. A lot of these are caused by consuming edibles — a candy bar with cannabis for instance, has more than four times the recommended dose of THC. People may visit the emergency department as a result, complaining of such things as anxiety attacks or psychotic-like symptoms after consuming these purposely or by accident.
As well, cases of poison in children under nice increased more than five-fold in Colorado after legalization according to Poison Control according to JAMA Pediatrics. The University of Colorado burn centre also reported a substantial increase in the number of cannabis-related burns after legalization.
Legal cannabis is regulated for consumer safety
Currently, people that purchase cannabis on the street have no way of knowing if it is covered with mould, fungus, pesticides or other harmful substances. Once cannabis is legalized, the Canadian government can enforce laboratory testing and regulations to ensure it is free of toxins. In Washington, law requires health warnings, quality assurance, labelling for the concentration of THC and other important regulations for consumers, which is the plan in Canada as well.
As well, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, where recreational cannabis is legal, all passed regulations to prevent exposure to children, including things like child-resistant packaging. With legalization, the government can set age restrictions and license and regulate the entire supply chain, including growers, distributors, retailers and testing facilities.
Traffic accidents and deaths increase when marijuana is legalized
Marijuana-related traffic deaths rose 62 per cent following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, according to Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in the U.S., reported that fatal crashes involving cannabis doubled after legalization in Washington. The Highway Loss Data Institute found an increased crash risk in legal cannabis states and reported collision claims in Colorado, Oregon and Washington are higher than prior to legalization.
As a final pro of legalized cannabis, government, growers and thousands of businesses expect to see increased revenues, be it taxes for municipal, provincial or federal agencies for things like money for better road repair, subsidized community activities, more money for education, public services and other government-led initiatives. Businesses (directly or indirectly) also expect to benefit come Oct. 17 with such things as increased sales on cannabis and even non-cannabis-related products some of which they expect to come from increased tourism.
While there are valid arguments both for and against legalization of recreation cannabis, the fact is it will be legal Oct. 17, regardless. Some people feel it should have been rolled out slowly, tested in one province first, similar to how the U.S. is legalizing it, but it is what it is. When it comes to legalization, it will be a lot of ‘let’s see what happens,’ unfortunately. In the interim, Canadians should start wrapping their heads around the new norm — legal cannabis for all Canadians.
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