I was a true believer in the war on drugs, but at the end of the day, as a physician, I have believe in an evidenced-based approach. The evidence shows that incarceration doesn't work, and decriminalization with offers of treatment do. It's time to ignore dogma and act in the best interests of Canadians. It's time to end this war.
As more and more places legalize and regulate cannabis, the wider implications of bringing the trade above ground have inevitably attracted scrutiny. A growth in tourism related to the drug is one such implication, and it's dividing opinion. It's time to shift the focus away from blanket opposition to legalization based on fears that it will lead to an influx of troublemakers intent on getting high. A regulated market would give policymakers the tools to combat -- or encourage -- cannabis tourism, as they see fit. The alternative is to allow organized criminals to continue managing the trade.
On the whole, my many years of research on substance use has taught me a major overarching lesson: we are much more likely to demonize drugs for their negative effects than consider their neutral or potentially positive impacts. Or -- in scientific terms -- there is a built-in bias in the scientific literature, textbooks, and popular press towards highlighting the negative aspects of drug use.
Instead of implying that cannabis and heroin dependence are equivalent, we should conceive of the use of drugs as being on a spectrum ranging from non-problematic to problematic use. The fact that the majority of cannabis use isn't harmful has significant implications for our cannabis policies. But realizing that a majority of people do not come to harm by their own non-problematic cannabis use does not downplay the seriousness of problematic cannabis use. However, for all the harm that can come from cannabis use, even more can come from its criminalization.
In all of our discussions on what 'gaps' need to be addressed under the MMPR, the lack of onsite distribution comes up again and again, and is one of the major reasons for the continued proliferation of dispensaries across Canada. It's certainly a more patient-focused option, where usually patients who access dispensaries are often given the option of coming in or having it mailed.
My work as a scientist involves researching the potential impact of cannabis among people living with HIV/AIDS. Patients have told us for decades that marijuana helps them deal with the side effects of their medications. But now, in a preliminary study, we have found evidence to suggest that people who use cannabis are more likely to have slower HIV disease progression -- meaning that they can live longer and healthier lives.
As someone who went from a teenager who easily bought cannabis under prohibition to a budtender keeping cannabis out of the hands of teenagers, there is no doubt in my mind that regulation creates real barriers to teen access to cannabis. There is no gatekeeper in the illegal drug market. Drug dealers never check ID. Beyond accessibility, another common misconception is that regulation produces a wealth of brand new cannabis users who are trying the drug simply because it's legal to do so.
Conversations about cannabis policy are heating up. So it's no surprise that we suddenly seem immersed in claims and counterclaims on a slew of topics related to cannabis use and regulation. The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy has tasked itself with determining the strength of scientific support for such claims. Over the past year, we've been working diligently on scanning the news media and online conversations about cannabis to identify the most oft-repeated or high-profile claims including the ones above related to its use and regulation.
Marijuana dispensaries in B.C. have yet to define why they exist, who they are for and why anyone should care. They live nostalgically in the anti-establishment, authority-bucking era of sticking it to the man. Changes in legislation and evolving market conditions demand that the medical marijuana industry grow up.