Legalization of Cannabis in Canada
The Good, The Bad and The Hazy
With the legalization of cannabis on the horizon, how will the burgeoning medical industry and the patients that rely on it be affected by this change? And what effects will this have on recreational cannabis users across the country?
In 1511, the leaders of Mecca prohibited coffee, fearing it would unite the political opposition because it was seen to stimulate radical thought and conversation. For about 30 years, coffee was enjoyed only in secret ritual. Today, we not only freely enjoy coffee, its benefits, and the community and conversation it generates, but we regard it as a common and everyday substance in our lives. And for those of us who love coffee, the idea that our government could prohibit it from us is laughable.
Very similar tactics of fear, lies, and persecution were used in the early 1900s to prohibit the use of cannabis, despite the fact that it was already being used as a medicine. The first step towards cannabis legalization in Canada came nearly a century later in 2001, when Canada introduced the very first regulations for the use of cannabis as medicine. This came after a court ruling found that Canadians have a constitutional right to fair access to medical cannabis.
For the last 15 years, the Medical Cannabis industry in Canada has grown in more ways than one. As the regulations around cannabis research here and around the world have loosened, we have learned a great deal about cannabis, its remarkable benefits, and its risks. And as we’ve learned more, we’ve been able to help more people more effectively.
In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ran on an election promise to legalize adult use of recreational cannabis. In the summer of 2016, his government appointed a Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. The Task Force recently released its recommendations, touching on all subjects from taxation to distribution and potency.
The recommendations given by the Task Force outline some of the reasonable limitations recreational users may face; but these limitations may not be conducive to many medical cannabis users.
The Task Force suggested limits on the amount of cannabis any person can have: up to 30 grams total at any given time; and also suggested higher taxes on more potent strains of cannabis. For many medical users who use 30-150 grams or more cannabis every month, those kinds of limitations are not going to work. And for many patients already struggling to pay for their cannabis, the idea of paying retail prices and higher taxes does not seem like a step in the right direction. So when cannabis is legalized, medical cannabis patients may not have access to as much cannabis as they require, and they may also be paying much more for it.
In Colorado, the medical cannabis industry boomed, following the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 2014. But there were many factors that caused that, taxation and product access among them.
In Canada, the Task Force has recommended that recreational cannabis be taxed at the same relative tax rates as medical cannabis is now. This means some of the incentive for patients to remain “medical” may disappear. And without some advantages to being “medical” (other than doctor oversight, which is valuable but potentially not worth the administrative costs associated with it), why would patients choose to stay medical? And if the medical system isn’t supported, will the research dollars for cannabis and its uses dry up?
On the other hand, Health Canada could issue a Drug Identification Number (DIN) for cannabis, which will give it the same status as other pharmaceutical products, including (most notably) coverage under provincial and private health insurance and drug programs. That would be a significant boon for the medical cannabis industry and the patients who rely on affordable access to cannabis.
And the possible benefits of legalization may not just be for medical cannabis users. After legalization, Colorado saw a major decrease in all drug-related arrests; they’ve generated tens of millions of dollars per year in tax revenue which is used, in part, to fund youth mental health initiatives and social programs; their economy became one of the fastest growing in the country; youth cannabis use declined; and the number of DUIs and traffic accidents also declined.
On the whole, the states that have legalized cannabis have flourished and its citizens have benefitted by living in a safer, more prosperous place, with a common-sense public health approach to the cultivation and sale of this once demonized flower.
For recreational users, legalizing cannabis does not just represent the ability to smoke what you got without looking over your shoulder. There are hundreds if not thousands of professional, hard-working, and successful people in Canada, who also happen to use cannabis. Legalization means being able to openly speak about their cannabis use without being labelled a low-life, or a lazy, unmotivated hippy.
Have you ever talked to your Doctor about cannabis? Would you be truthful if they asked? Many recreational users would say “No”. Because of the fear and stigma that has been developed for almost a century now, many people are not being truthful with their doctors about what they are putting in their bodies, for fear of repercussion. The same kind of fear someone in Mecca may have felt 500 years ago, if they wanted to talk about their favourite dark roast.
While the changes that are coming to the medical cannabis industry and the recreational market are not all clear now, if legalizing cannabis can encourage or permit you to feel comfortable speaking with your doctor more openly about your cannabis use or the possibility of using cannabis medically, who would claim that as a negative?
Michael Murchison is a Cannabis Counsellor working out of Canadian Cannabis clinics throughout the GTA, offering free knowledge and guidance to hundreds of medical cannabis patients every day. Canvasrx.com, firstname.lastname@example.org