Legalization of Marijuana: Good drug policy

By Rose Barbour (guest opinion)

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian) comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 2, 2016
Marijuana clone plants that are used to grow medical marijuana are displayed under a light in this Canadian Press file photo.
Canadian Press photo

I am writing in response to the recent article about the petition to stop the legalization of marijuana (also known as cannabis). Mitch Reid states that he is very concerned about legalization, which he believes will make things worse when it comes to addiction in our society. Cannabis is not a benign substance so Mr. Reid is right to be concerned about how it is handled.

In an effort to raise awareness on this important topic, and to perhaps put Mr. Reid’s mind at ease, I will share the views of a few respected organizations that are in support of legalization, starting with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). CAMH is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, and one of the world’s leading research centres in its field.

In 2014, it came out in favour of legalization of marijuana with a strict health-focused and regulated approach. CAMH conducted significant research on this issue and presents its conclusions in its “Cannabis Policy Framework” report, which is available on its website. I would encourage all Islanders to read it before signing onto any initiative that supports maintaining the status quo.

In the report, CAMH points out that Canada has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world. Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at CAMH, states that “Canada’s current system of cannabis control is failing to prevent or reduce the harms associated with cannabis use. The evidence examined indicates that the criminalization of cannabis does not deter people from using it. Instead, criminalization drives cannabis users away from prevention, risk reduction and treatment services.”

Dr. Rehm further points out that “Canadians obtaining cannabis in criminal markets know little about the potency or quality of the products they purchase. They are also exposed to criminality and other drugs and run the risk of a criminal record.” In addition, “enforcement of cannabis laws cost Canadians $1.2 billion per year.” It is CAMH’s research-informed opinion that an approach of legalization with strict regulations will present governments at all levels with an opportunity to mitigate harms to youth and to promote a public health approach geared to prevention and education.

The organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which is made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities, among others, also advocates for legalization. LEAP states that existing drug policies “have failed, and continue to fail, to effectively address the problems of drug abuse, especially the problems of juvenile drug use, the problems of addiction, and the problems of crime created by criminal control of illegal drug sales.”

LEAP believes that “a system of regulation and control of these substances by the government, replacing the current system of control by the black market, would be a less harmful, less costly, more ethical, and more effective public policy”.

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC), an independent civil society network of organizations and individuals working to improve Canada’s drug policies, also believes that it is time to chart a new path because the current approach that “relies far too heavily on the criminalization of people and punitive policies is not working. It is expensive, wasteful, ineffective and damaging to those who are most in need.”  

CAMH, LEAP and CDPC, three trusted and respected organizations in the areas of mental health and addiction treatment and research, law enforcement, and drug policy, respectively, favour a public health approach to drugs, not a criminal one, as a way to reduce the harms to individuals and society.

We cannot afford another 40 years of a failed “war on drugs.”

With the highest rate of cannabis use in the world and a drug epidemic that spans across our great nation, it is time for change.

Rose Barbour is a recently retired addictions advocate from Charlottetown who still writes about the issue from time to time.