Many of us have watched as our friends and/or family members battled a harmful disease: cancer, diabetes, anorexia, the list seems endless. Some end up winning while others are not so lucky. One disease in particular is on the minds of many Americans as the repeal of marijuana prohibition becomes closer and closer to reality – addiction. Anyone who has seen drug addiction take over the life of a loved one knows just how serious the disease can be and too many people have experienced addiction first hand. Those who have gone through it would likely agree that saying it is a “fight” is putting it kindly. It’s a war. A no holds barred, tooth and nail, day and night, never ending battle to overcome cravings with a need to put forth a continuous effort to silence the voice that tells you, “just one more time”.
The war on drugs has never actually been about the substances themselves but rather this was a war waged against addiction and drug abuse. That is why the decision of The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to support marijuana legalization came as such a shock. The CAMH is one of the world’s leading research centers in the field of addiction and the largest mental health and teaching hospital for addiction in Canada.
The CAMH Cannabis Policy Framework outlines support for the thesis that, “Legalization, combined with strict health-focused regulation, provides an opportunity to reduce the harms associated with cannabis use.” The report highlights the obvious fact that prohibition is just not working and, “…tougher penalties do not lead to lower rates of cannabis use”. In the press release for the report Dr. Jurgen Rehm points out that by not heavily regulating cannabis, it forces people to turn to the black market where they must associate with criminals and are exposed to other drugs. When purchasing cannabis in this type of setting people do not know what they are getting. There is a potential hazard for mold, pesticides, and other contaminants which could have adverse effects for consumers with compromised immune systems. Exposure to the criminal drug culture may lead to more serious substance abuse and/or a criminal record that may hinder a person’s ability to find gainful employment.
CAMH offers a starting point to guide the regulation of legal marijuana which begins with these ten principles:
- Establish a government monopoly on sales.
- Set a minimum age for cannabis purchase and consumption.
- Limit availability by placing caps on retail density and limits to the hours of operation.
- Curb demand through pricing while minimizing the opportunity for black market operations.
- Curtail higher-risk products and formulations.
- Prohibit marketing, advertising, and sponsorship.
- Clearly display product information.
- Develop a comprehensive framework to address and prevent cannabis-impaired driving.
- Enhance access to treatment and expand treatment options.
- Invest in education and prevention.
Dr. Peter Selby emphasizes that, “Cannabis is not a benign substance. Especially for those who use it in large amounts or regularly.” These are factors that play a role in addiction, as well as, age and family mental health history. Additionally, Dr. Joanna Henderson, Head of Research with the Child, Youth, and Family Program at CAMH, points out that the high rates of cannabis use in Canadian youth suggest that they do not fully understand the risks of marijuana consumption. Many youth understand the dangers of alcohol and tobacco but see marijuana as being natural and therefore not dangerous. The CAMH study suggests that legalization would be the best way to combat the social harms caused by prohibition and be the proper way to balance public health and control.