B.C. Medical Group Recommends Pot Legalization

Some B.C. medical health officials are now advocating for marijuana to be legalized, arguing that the government’s costly enforcement activities are making little difference.

The Health Officers’ Council of B.C., which represents B.C.’s medical health officers and other physicians, researchers and consultants, is endorsing a report being released Thursday that suggests a direct link between the province’s $7-billion illegal cannabis industry and the increase in gang-related homicides in B.C. from 1997 to 2009.

The report, based on Canadian and U.S. data, finds that Canada’s anti-marijuana enforcement strategies are failing to keep pot out of the hands of teens, who said it is relatively easy to locate a supplier willing to sell them a bag of the increasingly potent grass.

The report has been compiled by Stop the Violence B.C., a coalition of B.C. law enforcement officials, health experts and academics advocating marijuana law reform.

Geared toward “debunking” the government’s argument that current anti-drug measures are working, the report, titled “How not to protect health and safety: What the government’s own data say about the effects of cannabis prohibition,” assesses the effects of both U.S. and Canadian anti-drug funding on marijuana supply, potency and use.

The report said that despite expenditure of an estimated $260 million in drug law enforcement since 2007, pot smoking among Canadian youth (defined as being 15 to 24 years old) increased considerably since the 1990s.

In B.C., 27 per cent of youth said they had smoked pot “at least once” in the past year, according to a 2009 study cited in the report. This compares to the 20 per cent of Ontario high school students who responded “Yes” to the same question in 2009, a doubling of the 10 per cent who did so in 1991.

Meantime, according to U.S. data, 80 to 90 per cent of American 12th graders said it is “very easy” or “fairly easy” to buy weed, which is cheaper and nine times stronger than it was 10 years ago. The report noted that similar studies weren’t available for the Canadian market, although it did highlight a 2006 report that pegged THC levels in Canadian marijuana at 10.3 per cent, which is considered high.

“The unmistakable interpretation of these government surveillance data is that, while increased funding for anti-cannabis law enforcement does increase cannabis seizures and arrests, the assumption that this approach reduces cannabis potency, increases price or meaningfully reduces cannabis availability and use is inconsistent with virtually all available data,” the report concludes.

Dr. Evan Wood, a Vancouver physician and founder of Stop the Violence B.C., said the report provides a strong argument against the federal government’s current “blanket prohibition” policy on pot, which he said has contributed to a “range of serious unintended consequences in terms of organized crime and gang violence.”

“By every metric, this policy is failing to meet its objectives,” Wood said. “Why wouldn’t we (look at a regulating model) when we know that what we are doing now is both ineffective and harmful?”

By regulating the market, he said, the distribution and use of the drug would be more controlled and would also eliminate organized crime from the equation. It would also provide a source of tax revenue in the hundreds of millions, he added.

To coincide with the release of the report, the Health Officers’ Council of B.C., a registered society of B.C. Public Health Physicians, was to announce Thursday the passing of a resolution offering full support to Stop the Violence B.C.

The council has about 90 members, consisting of approximately equal numbers of public health physicians, medical health officers and retired medical health officers.

Accompany the report is a new Angus Reid poll that found 59 per cent of 800 British Columbians surveyed disagreed that pot is more harmful than alcohol, 54 per cent disagreed that it was dangerous and addictive, and that 51 per cent don’t believe it to be a gateway drug.

– Article from The Montreal Gazette.