A Breakdown of the Recent Report on Cannabis Legalization Released by Public Safety Canada

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Public Safety Canada released a lengthy 69-page research report, analyzing 45 different “metrics” (i.e. indicators of impact) that should be considered in a comprehensive evaluation of upcoming cannabis policy regime for personal use. Of the 45 important metrics identified, the authors explain that Canada only collects complete data on about 7 of these indications, partial data for about 17, with little to no data to evaluate the remaining 21 metrics.  While I won’t attempt to summarize all 45 indicators, I will highlight some of the interesting aspects of this report, focusing mostly on what is missing or where we have partial data.

The indicators of the success or failure are not always straightforward, and require a very complex analysis of a host of different considerations – some I hadn’t even considered. But a report such as this gives us a head start on identifying various data collection frameworks that will help Canada better understand how legalization will unfold. To do this, we need to establish baseline comparative data pre-legalization, which means the work needs to begin now.


Traffic Accidents
This has been a major public health concern with the onset of legalization in Canada. We know that the tools to detect ‘drugged driving’ are far from perfect; however, the report highlights some data on self-reported driving under the influence. We know that young drivers are the most likely to drive under the influence of cannabis (about 8.3% of 18-19 year olds and 6.4% of 15-17 year olds). Using international data, the report estimates that driving under the influence of cannabis can increase the chances of accidents by two to three times. However, there are also some studies that indicate that in jurisdictions with higher cannabis use, that alcohol impaired driving is typically lower, positing that cannabis may displace alcohol use, and in turn, actually reduce the amount of drinking and driving (see Anderson et al. 2013).

The report notes that in an examination of hospital admission data, cannabis was found in the system of 13.9% of seriously injured drivers. However, the report acknowledges the tension between chemical traces of cannabis in the blood and intoxication, meaning that if cannabis was detected, the driver may not have been intoxicated at the time of driving — a “far from perfect” (26) way to measure DUIDs. Due to this, I would move this category to the “Partially Known” list, since we cannot accurately collect data on intoxication. Contrary to where this one is listed in the report, more research needs to be done here, while using available data as a starting point.

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