Editorial: Pot Nation

In roughly 60 days (October 17), Canada will become the second country in the world to legalize the recreational use and sale of cannabis marijuana. Does everyone feel like they have a good handle on exactly how this is going to work? Or the better question is, does anyone?

Canada essentially entered new territory in June when the Senate approved Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. According to the federal Department of Justice, the Act “creates a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis across Canada.” The Act “aims to accomplish” three goals: “keep cannabis out of the hands of youth; keep profits out of the hands of criminals; (and) protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to safe, legal cannabis.” Once the Act comes into force this fall, Canadian residents 18 years and older will legally be able to possess or “share” up to 30 grams of legal cannabis; buy cannabis from provincially licensed retailers; grow (“from licensed seed or seedlings”) up to four cannabis plants per household “for personal use”; and make cannabis products at home “as long as organic solvents are not used to create concentrated products.” In Ontario, the legal age for cannabis use and possession will be 19, the same as for tobacco and alcohol, and it will only be available to buy online until sometime next year, when the province will roll out a plan for retail outlets.

So we’re going down the “reefer road” – what’s the big deal? Maybe nothing. Maybe, like the government says, marijuana is already too easy to get and legalizing it takes it off the streets and makes it safer. Maybe.

Or maybe we don’t know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into. The government’s move came over serious concerns raised by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Psychiatric Association, which have both warned about the dangers of marijuana use, particularly among youth and young adults. Even Health Canada warns that cannabis use can have both short and long-term negative effects. “While cannabis may make you feel relaxed and happy,” Health Canada says, short-term effects can include confusion; anxiety, fear or panic; damaged blood vessels; decreased blood pressure, “which can cause people to faint”; increased heart rate, “which can be dangerous for people with heart conditions”; and “psychotic episodes” characterized by paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. Longer term effects can include “an increased risk of addiction” and harm to your “memory, concentration, intelligence (IQ), and ability to think and make decisions.”

No doubt it’s very old-fashioned to raise alarms about the use of something so widely considered “no big deal” as marijuana. But making cannabis easily and generally available is hardly going to help keep it out of the hands of the kids who are most at risk of damage from using it – anyone who believes that is a fool. The government’s decision to press ahead with legalization has less to do with good policy than it does with a desire to appear young and modern. Let’s hope that, like too many decisions made in youth, it’s not one we all end up regretting.

TM