CANNABIS CULTURE- Exiled “Princess of pot” Jodie Emery will speak before the Federal Health Committee on legalization of cannabis. She’s facing a possible life-sentence for her role as vocal activist for cannabis liberation and yet remains brave at the spearhead to fight for the victims of prohibition and lobby for craft cannabis reducers. Excerpts from her submission, as shared on her twitter page, apper below:
Introduction: Why Legalize Cannabis?
Cannabis legalization has gained widespread support in the last few years following decades of relentless political activism and public advocacy, combined with peaceful civil disobedience and legal challenges in the courts.
The Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs spent two years studying cannabis, and concluded in their 2002 report:
“The continued prohibition of cannabis jeopardizes the health and well-being of Canadians much more than does the substance itself.”
Cannabis legalization was understood to be a means to address the following issues:
1) Millions of Canadians have been unjustly arrested and given criminal records for cannabis offences since 1965, despite not causing any harm to the safety or well-being of their fellow citizens
2) The cannabis industry and subculture – including growers, distributors and consumers – already exists despite prohibitive criminal penalties
3) Billions of tax dollars have been spent on cannabis law enforcement across Canada, with no impact on the underground market, and with great harm caused to millions of peaceful, non-violent Canadians
Victims of decades of cannabis prohibition deserve to have a representative speak to concerns about protecting civil liberties, public health and safety. A truly informed “Cannabis Act” review and committee hearing must include testimony from someone devoted to this aspect of cannabis legalization law reform.
For this reason, I submit the following information for consideration, with the hopes of amendments to Bill C-45, the “Cannabis Act”.
Cannabis Prohibition Victims
With millions of Canadians arrested and otherwise penalized for cannabis since 1965, and countless other hardships suffered by millions more, it would be negligent to discuss legalization and cannabis law reform without hearing testimony from a representative of cannabis prohibition victims.
Unfortunately, after the Liberal Party formed government following election victory in October 2015, the legalization discussion in Canada shifted away from focusing on undoing prohibition harms to protect our rights and civil liberties. Instead, the messaging has now primarily focused on promoting exaggerated and unscientific fears about perceived cannabis harms in order to justify continued criminalization and prohibitive regulations.
An arrest – or even a police interaction – for cannabis results in peaceful Canadians losing their jobs, children, educational opportunities, travel rights, ability to volunteer, and more hardships and discrimination. Tens of thousands of Canadians are arrested every year for simple possession.
Cannabis law enforcement has been proven to be racially biased and discriminatory since its inception. Enforcement by police usually targets the poor, young, marginalized, Indigenous, and people of colour.
The Toronto Star recently obtained data from the Toronto Police about cannabis enforcement, and found police disproportionately target and arrest minority groups. “Toronto police data obtained by the Star breaks down arrests by neighbourhood and shows disproportionate numbers for Black people when it comes to pot possession charges.”
Liberal Member of Parliament and Liberal Legalization chief Bill Blair said at the Liberal Senate forum on legalization in 2016: “One of the great injustices in this country,” is the disparate and disproportional police enforcement of marijuana laws and, “the impact that it has on minority communities, aboriginal communities and those in our most vulnerable neighbourhoods.”
Liberals considering amnesty for past marijuana crimes, but won’t halt prosecutions in the meantime
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted the same in a VICE news documentary in April 2017, saying to a young man arrested for cannabis, “In the meantime, our focus is on changing the legislation to fix what’s broken, about a system that is hurting Canadians like you, and then we’ll take steps to look at what we can do for those people who have criminal records for something that is no longer criminal.”
In Oakland, California, legalization resulted in an Equity Permit Program, which requires fifty percent of cannabis licensed be given to cannabis prohibition victims.
When Canada legalizes cannabis, the world will be watching. Our legislation must recognize the victims of prohibition, and offer pardons, amnesty and reparations. Legalization should recognize, reduce and eliminate the damage caused by unjust and discriminatory cannabis criminalization.
Harms of Cannabis Prohibition Arrests
I have personally experienced twelve years of the harmful impact of cannabis prohibition, directly and indirectly. As the wife of a cannabis prohibition prisoner, I can attest to the extreme physical, emotional and financial stress and hardships of going through the criminal justice system for cannabis.
In 2005, my husband Marc Emery, a very high-profile political activist, was arrested and subjected to a lengthily extradition hearing to face charges in the United States related to his cannabis legalization activism and financing. In 2009 he accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to five years in U.S. federal prison, with a release date of August 2014.
Lawyer fees, prison phone call and mail costs, visitation, hygiene items, food, and other small mercies behind bars – all of these were expenses I had to work hard to afford to keep my peaceful, non-violent husband safe behind bars.
As a high-profile cannabis advocate myself, I have recently experienced my first arrest related to cannabis. In March 2017 I was detained, charged and jailed for two nights in relation to my peaceful civil disobedience: being connected to a number of recently-opened cannabis dispensaries.
I can personally speak to the degrading and unjust nature of the law enforcement process arising from a cannabis arrest. The experience of being handcuffed, strip-searched, denied my ability to give or refuse consent, and then jailed in a cold concrete cell is a collection of indignities that should never be suffered by any peaceful, non-violent Canadian – especially not for having anything to do with cannabis.
Concerns About Bill C-45
The Liberal Government of Canada claims it has used “evidence-based policy” to create Bill C-45. However, a number of respectable scientific studies and reports refute much of the ongoing misinformation being used to justify the introduction of new, harsh penalties in Bill C-45 (and related Bill C-46).
There are three main claims made to justify continued cannabis criminalization:
1) Cannabis is harmful for teens and young adults
2) Cannabis causes increased impairment and traffic accidents
3) Cannabis is used by criminal organizations to make money
Exaggerated fear-based messages about cannabis being dangerous have been used to justify criminalization in the past, resulting in gross civil liberties violations and human right abuses. If Canada is going to truly honour the main reasons for ending cannabis prohibition, legislation must not continue to criminalize cannabis for any reason.
Decades of studies prove that many claims made by authorities about cannabis are exaggerated, misinformed, and not significant enough to warrant continued criminalization of peaceful, non-violent people.
Government-sanctioned fear-based information campaigns will result in more people suffering unjust punishment, such as the loss of their jobs, homes, children, scholarships, right to travel, ability to volunteer, and more penalties.
People who are scared away from cannabis are being unfairly denied the opportunity to access a product that is not only medically effective and saving lives of countless patients, but is also a far safer choice than alcohol, hard drugs and pharmaceuticals that so many people use and abuse.
Teenagers and Cannabis Use
The first concern about teens and young adults is presented with good intentions, but the Cannabis Act legislation will do nothing to prevent teen access and use. Cannabis prohibition of the past has failed, despite serious penalties, to discourage or prevent teen use. New different prohibitions will also fail to discourage or prevent teen use.
Teenagers are mostly at risk from harm from alcohol and pharmaceutical pills, particularly painkillers and opioids. Young adults will use recreational substances, and an honest harm-reduction approach is the best way to educate and inform youth about substance use. And we must be honest. Cannabis is by far the safest choice for teenagers who are using substances.
The British Medical Journal released a 2012 report on 19 commonly used substances, and determined that cannabis was the least harmful to individuals and society at large: “Quantifying the RR of harm to self and others from substance misuse: results from a survey of clinical experts across Scotland”
Teenagers who use cannabis are no more likely to experience health problems later on in life than non-users, even if they are chronic consumers, according to the American Psychological Association 2015 study: “Chronic Adolescent Marijuana Use as a Risk Factor for Physical and Mental Health Problems in Young Adult Men”
Teenagers do not experience I.Q. loss from using cannabis, according to the British Association for Psychopharmacology: Journal of Psychopharmacology January 2016 report: “Are IQ and educational outcomes in teenagers related to their cannabis use? A prospective cohort study”
Teenagers who use cannabis are not more likely to experience psychosis. The Journal for Adolescent Health June 2017 study “Cannabis Use, Polysubstance Use, and Psychosis Spectrum Symptoms in a Community-Based Sample of U.S. Youth” found “minimal evidence for associations between cannabis use by itself and PS [psychosis spectrum]symptoms.”
We cannot let fears about teenagers and cannabis use allow government to impose strict, costly and unjustifiably punitive criminal penalties on cannabis. We shouldn’t encourage teen use, but continued demonization and harsh new laws related to young adults will only cause more harm. It’s important to remember that an arrest and criminal record for cannabis does much more harm to young adults and teenagers than cannabis ever could.
Driving and Impairment
Exaggerated propaganda has everyone on high alert about cannabis and impaired driving. There are new laws being introduced (Bill C46) and police across the country are seeking increased tools and funding to deal with drivers when legalization passes. Many organizations and officials say we need more research.
The research is in. Decades of research from around the world have determined that cannabis does not impair drivers, and does not cause an increase in crashes. Two of the most recent and thorough studies reached the same conclusions.
The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report in 2015 called “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk” that stated “the study did not find an increase in population based crash risk associated with THC use”.
The “analyses incorporating adjustments for age, gender, ethnicity, and alcohol concentration level did not show a significant increase in levels of crash risk associated with the presence of drugs. This finding indicates that these other variables (age, gender, ethnicity and alcohol use) were highly correlated with drug use and account for much of the increased risk associated with the use of illegal drugs and with THC.”
The American Journal of Public Health report in July 2017, “Crash Fatality Rates After Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Washington and Colorado” found that “changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization”.
When it comes to driving, police already have tools and laws in place to detect and deal with impaired driving, no matter what’s causing it – be it alcohol, medication, road rage, or tiredness. Impairment is proven by performance, and methods already exist to detect impairment, so there shouldn’t be new harsh penalties in place, nor extra funding to police for detection devices that are scientifically unsound and inaccurate.
It also needs to be noted that reducing wasteful, ineffective cannabis law enforcement budgets in order to reprioritize spending and focus on more serious crime was one of the top reasons for legalization. Police across Canada spend hundreds of millions of dollars combined on marijuana law enforcement and related policing work. Legalization should eliminate wasteful spending.
Organized Crime and Gangs
Prohibition as a policy is responsible for any involvement of gangs in the cannabis industry. Prohibition as a policy increases the risk, which increases the reward, which makes it attractive to certain people who don’t fear repercussions from engaging in illegal activities.
By criminalizing cannabis, governments invite criminals to engage in the market. Cannabis prohibition manufactures crime where it wouldn’t exist otherwise.
However, millions of peaceful, non-violent Canadians who choose to use, grow or distribute cannabis are also deemed “criminals” by the law. Any group of three people who discuss cannabis and civil disobedience are designated as “organized crime” by law enforcement. This unfair and detrimental label should not be attached to otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Justice Department statistics, as reported on in “Organized Crime in the Cannabis Market: Evidence and Implications”, submitted to the Cannabis Legalization Task Force by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, show that the vast majority of cannabis growers – 95 percent – are otherwise law-abiding citizens who are not connected to gangs.
These Canadians should not be deemed criminals. If Bill C-45 imposes prohibitive regulations, the so-called “black market” for cannabis will continue to exist. The only way to eliminate the “black market” in cannabis is to create inclusive, accessible legislation that will allow peaceful, non-violent members of the existing cannabis industry to come out of the shadows of prohibition and into the light of legalization.
Protecting Public Health
Many concerns about cannabis relate to the perception that it is harmful for individual and collective health and public safety. This is demonstrably untrue.
The British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal report “Cannabis, Tobacco and Alcohol: Comparing risks of harm and costs to society” in 2009 determined: “In terms of social costs, the vast majority of the social costs of cannabis are enforcement-related.”
It continues: “In terms of costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user. On the enforcement side, costs for cannabis are the highest at $328 per user—94% of social costs for cannabis are linked to enforcement. Enforcement costs per user for alcohol are about half those for cannabis ($153).”
It concludes: “On the other hand, the health costs per user of tobacco and alcohol are much higher than for cannabis. This may indicate that cannabis use involves fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco.” And further, “Efforts to reduce social costs related to cannabis, for example, will likely involve shifting its legal status by decriminalizing casual use, to reduce the high enforcement costs. Such a shift may be warranted given the apparent lower health risk associated with most cannabis use.”
Many reputable studies have concluded that cannabis consumers are not at greater risk of cancer or other health ailments. The Journal of the American Medical Association July 2016 study “Associations Between Cannabis Use and Physical Health Problems in Early Midlife” determined that “Cannabis use for up to 20 years is associated with periodontal disease but is not associated with other physical health problems in early midlife.”
In fact, cannabis is shown to be useful in treating many forms of cancer. The United States Government’s own National Cancer Institute reports that cannabis has “antitumor” properties, stating “cannabinoids may have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors”. It continues, “Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death.”
In 2012, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a 20-year-long study, “Association Between Marijuana Exposure and Pulmonary Function Over 20 Years”. It reported that cannabis does not harm lung function, and even protects lungs from harm, stating: “Low to moderate users actually showed increased lung capacity compared to nonsmokers.”
The authors conclude: “Marijuana may have beneficial effects on pain control, appetite, mood, and management of other chronic symptoms. Our findings suggest that occasional use of marijuana for these or other purposes may not be associated with adverse consequences on pulmonary function.”
With so much evidence showing cannabis is not harmful to health, there is no justification for continuing fear-based demonization campaigns or discriminatory law enforcement against peaceful people for cannabis.
Cannabis and the Opioid Crisis
The opioid crisis sweeping our country is devastating our communities. Government officials should be promoting every possible approach to reduce the overdoes and deaths. Decades of science have proven that cannabis and cannabis dispensaries help to reduce opioid use, abuse, overdoses and death.
The Journal of the American Medical Association 2014 study “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010” concluded that “Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates”.
The United States Government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse study reported in 2016, “marijuana dispensaries were associated with lower rates of dependence on prescription opioids, and deaths due to opioid overdose.”
Legalization of cannabis should allow for the promotion of cannabis as a safer choice for those who are addicted to and being harmed by opioids and other dangerous drugs.
With so much evidence of cannabis being beneficial to health, and not harmful in any significant or demonstrable way, there is no legitimate reason for governments to continue criminalizing Canadians for cannabis.
We know that alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, opioids, and even sugar are responsible for enormous suffering, injury, illness and death across Canada on a daily basis. Cannabis does not cause harm in any significant or measurable way, especially when compared to demonstrably harmful legal substances.
Cannabis has never caused death, as it is non-toxic. Cannabis helps people avoid harmful substances that cost them their health, as well as society in tax dollars and harm to others. Cannabis legalization, if done properly without excessive and prohibitive regulations, can offer many economic and health benefits to Canadians.
Cannabis legalization should be about normalizing the plant in the eyes of the government and the law, just as it is already extremely normalized in media, art, culture and most of mainstream society. Restrictions on advertising and promotion will deny Canadians the opportunity to learn about cannabis as a safer choice than alcohol or opioids for recreational and medicinal use. Cannabis legalization should mean the end of cannabis criminalization, and an acknowledgement of the extensive and unjust harms caused to millions of peaceful people. Reparations and an admission of the injustice of cannabis prohibition is necessary to restore public faith in the law.
I politely request that when you review Bill C-45, the “Cannabis Act”, please consider the damage done by cannabis prohibition in the past, and amend or remove sections that are unnecessarily harsh and restrictive.
It is unfortunate that the “Cannabis Act” legislation is being rushed through review without enough public input and thoughtful consideration of the evidence – far too much of which exists than can be reviewed in a week-long hearing. But thankfully, we can focus on the simple finding of the two-year-long study of the Canadian Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs: “The continued prohibition of cannabis jeopardizes the health and well-being of Canadians much more than does the substance itself.”
Thank you for taking the time to review my brief.
Jodie J. Emery