New Cannabis Policy Framework concludes that legalization with regulation would reduce the drug's health and social harms.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has been studying cannabis use and harm-reduction strategies, and in a new Cannabis Policy Framework released today, presents its findings and recommendations: in order to reduce the health and social risks associated with marijuana use, the drug should be legalized.
Like alcohol and tobacco, cannabis has been linked to adverse health effects—unlike those substances, though, it’s illegal, classed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Its criminalization, CAMH concludes, “heightens [its] health harms and causes social harms” and “a public health approach focused on high‐risk users and practices—similar to the approach favoured with alcohol and tobacco” would allow for “more control over the risk factors associated with cannabis‐related harm.”
So, while the centre acknowledges such a move would not be without its risks, it’s now calling for legalization of the drug—along with strict regulations for its use. It suggests the move should be accompanied by several measures:
- a government monopoly on sales
- a minimum age for purchase and consumption
- controls on availability
- a pricing system that curbs demand and discourages use of higher-harm products
- a ban on marketing, advertising and promotion
- a requirement that products be sold in standardized plain packaging
The centre’s new stance marks a break from its 2002 recommendation, which urged marijuana’s decriminalization. Decriminalization would mean that the possession of small amounts of the drug would fall in the civil sphere, and result in a possible fine. On the CAMH website, Dr. Jürgen Rehm outlines the considerations that motivated this shift:
- Decriminalizing cannabis does nothing to address the health harms. Cannabis remains unregulated and users know nothing about its potency or quality.
- Decriminalization cannot regulate the market, and cannabis users will get into contact with other forms of illegal drugs via purchasing an illegal substance.
- Treating cannabis use primarily as a criminal justice issue and not a health issue discourages the use of prevention, risk reduction and treatment services.
He adds that health equity is also an important concern, as racialized minorities and vulnerable populations are charged with marijuana-related offences at a rate higher than that of the general population. “Public policies,” he writes, “should be assessed not only according to their effect on population health but also by their impact on health equity, and decriminalization fails this test.”
Although CAMH emphasizes in its framework that it “neither makes a moral statement on cannabis nor encourages its use,” Rehm concludes that “we need an approach to cannabis that puts health first. The right set of regulations, carefully implemented and thoroughly evaluated, can help us achieve that.”