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Drug Policy

Over the five years I spent seeking treatment, my family and I encountered a seemingly endless series of obstacles -- from programs that couldn't accommodate me, to waiting lists that lasted much longer than my desire to get clean -- all of which combined to feel like the treatment system was designed for me to fail.
It's become clear that the way countries evaluate their drug policies dictates the kinds of outcomes that governments are seeking to highlight. Simply put, reform begins with taking a hard look at what governments themselves are prioritizing in their drug policy evaluations.
My only hope is that the eventual regulating bodies take a broader look at public health outcomes, and we fight against a purely commercial cannabis market. We should acknowledge Canada's distinct history when it comes to reform, cannabis policy and medical cannabis.
Mandatory minimum sentences for possessing drugs for personal use do not make Canadians safer. They will not improve the health of our economy, the safety of our streets, or the well-being of communities throughout Canada. The inevitable overcrowding of Canadian prisons will not only increase tension and conflict in prisons, but also cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
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.
You've likely heard that regulating cannabis markets will lead to more stoned drivers on the road. Although the evidence in support of this claim is weak, it's repeated time and time again. So we thought we would ask members of law enforcement from Washington State what they think of this claim.
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.
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.