Ottawa Must Monitor How Legal Pot Could Hurt and Help: Experts

Article by Mike Haggar, The Globe and Mail

A federal panel reporting to Ottawa on the next steps toward legalizing marijuana is expected to call for a comprehensive regime to monitor the impacts of bringing the substance out of the shadows and into the mainstream. And that could make Canada the world’s first national case study on the dangers – and potential benefits – of cannabis when the drug becomes legal, some of the country’s leading drug researchers say.

Researchers must study the dangers, such as impaired driving and more young people using it, says Dan Werb, director of the Toronto-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. But, he adds, they must also be open to looking for pot’s potential public-health benefits, such as people substituting cannabis for alcohol or opioids.

“The one mistake government could make is focusing strictly on cannabis-related outcomes,” Dr. Werb said. “Cannabis, by almost every measure, is a safer drug than alcohol, than cocaine, than heroin, than amphetamines and tobacco.”

“The question for me isn’t really about how many people use cannabis after we regulate it. The question is: How many people use [other drugs such as] alcohol?” he said in an interview in Vancouver.

“So, if we see increases in cannabis use, but we see a comparable reduction in alcohol use, to me, that is a massive public-health success. If we’re only focused obsessively on cannabis, we’re going to miss the broader picture here.”

On Wednesday, Toronto’s Centre for Mental Health and Addiction released data from its latest annual survey of Ontario that showed more than 14 per cent of adults used cannabis last year – that’s up from 9 per cent reported in 1996. Of note, the organization said more people over the age of 50 in that province acknowledged using the substance last year (23 per cent) compared with a decade ago when only six per cent of respondents said they consumed marijuana.

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