If Canada approaches marijuana regulations equitably from the perspective of public health and safety, they have a much greater chance of succeeding

Originally published in Lift News.

The Government of Canada believes that the new regime for legal access to marijuana must achieve two of the following objectives:

  • Protect young Canadians by keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and youth.
  • Keep profits out of the hands of criminals, particularly organized crime.

In Colorado and Washington neither of these objectives have been achieved after regulations and legalization came into effect, so how does Canada expect to achieve what very well could be the impossible?

Youth

With respect to youth consumption, the challenges are twofold. If the government intends to stop or curb youth consumption by strictly “regulating and controlling” it, they will have to essentially quash any unregulated or uncontrolled market behaviour, as this is the existing market that youth are accessing in legal jurisdictions now. Access is a factor, but it is not the most effective way of curtailing youth consumption. According to Dr. Neil Bernstein in How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do if You Can’t, the reasons teens consume fall into eight categories: other people, popular media, escape and self-medication, boredom, rebellion, instant gratification, lack of confidence, and misinformation.

The first reason speaks volumes to the enormity of the challenge ahead for Canada, as teens are often introduced to cannabis and other substances, including alcohol, by their elder peers and family members. In a regulated market, access by these same people will translate to access for youth, as is the case in Colorado.

Rather than approaching youth consumption from a “restrict and control” enforcement perspective, society might be better served by studying and addressing the other contributing factors that lead to youth cannabis consumption. This would entail considerable investment in education, community programs, family programs, prevention programs and youth initiatives. Investment in prevention is not only monetarily responsible, it is socially responsible.

Organized Crime

The majority of organized crime groups in Canada are involved in drug trafficking due to the high revenue of Canada’s import and export drug market, with drug trafficking accounting for approximately 57% ($44.5 billion). Footnote2

Canadian-based crime groups continue to import illicit drugs from the United States, Mexico, China, India and several South American, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries. Drugs exported from Canada, such as marijuana, are targeted mostly at the United States, Australia and Japan.

Cannabis is the domestic product of Canadian organized crime groups. If the Canadian government intends to de-fund these groups it should be strategic in its approach. Home cultivation and small business integration of cannabis cultivators would decrease costs, increase access, and remove profit incentive for the illicit domestic market. A decentralized market that includes current cultivators who are not affiliated with cartels or organized crime groups would create a highly competitive and robust market, driving prices down and removing the profit incentives that sustain the black market. Inversely, a tightly controlled and restricted regime would create the vacuum the black market relies on to thrive.

The de-funding of organized crime groups is a priority from a public safety perspective as much as it is from a public health perspective, as the two are intertwined. A safe society is a healthier society.

If Canada approaches the regulations equitably from the perspective of public health and safety, we have a much greater chance of succeeding in our goals, as lofty as they may seem at this time.