On pot, the gov­ern­ment is right to take it slowly

Northumberland Today - - OPINION - Mo­hammed Adam is an Ot­tawa writer. MO­HAMMED ADAM

With­out ques­tion, the On­tario gov­ern­ment’s plan to reg­u­late mar­i­juana once the drug is le­gal­ized makes em­i­nent sense.

There’s no doubt that Canada is en­ter­ing un­char­tered wa­ters; cau­tion should be the watchword.

We are, for the first time, le­gal­iz­ing the recre­ational use of a street drug whose broader long-term im­pact on the pop­u­la­tion re­mains un­cer­tain and the last thing we need is to plunge into this with care­less aban­don.

No, the pro­vin­cial Lib­er­als are not tak­ing us back to the 1950s with the mea­sures they have an­nounced to con­trol the sale of cannabis. The gov­ern­ment is sim­ply tak­ing it one step at a time, and it is the right strat­egy.

“The province is mov­ing for­ward with a safe and sen­si­ble ap­proach to le­gal­iza­tion that will en­sure we can keep our com­mu­ni­ties and roads safe, pro­mote pub­lic health and harm re­duc­tion, and pro­tect On­tario’s young peo­ple,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Yasir Naqvi said. He is right. Think about what the gov­ern­ment an­nounced.

In line with im­pend­ing fed­eral law, mar­i­juana will be le­gal in On­tario.

At 19, the same min­i­mum age for al­co­hol, one can buy mar­i­juana for recre­ational use.

Pri­vate stores that have sprung up across the city il­le­gally sell­ing the drug will be shut down and in­stead, 150 stand-alone stores op­er­at­ing un­der the um­brella of the LCBO will be es­tab­lished across the province to sell the drug.

They will op­er­ate the same way al­co­hol is sold in the province.

To­day, if you are smoker and my col­league at work, you can­not puff away in my face. You can­not smoke in pub­lic places. You are re­quired to go out­side or to a des­ig­nated area to in­dulge. Mar­i­juana smok­ers are sim­ply be­ing held to sim­i­lar stan­dard. They can­not smoke their joints in pub­lic places and work­places but are free to do so in their homes.

Down the road, the gov­ern­ment may look at the fea­si­bil­ity of li­cens­ing places where peo­ple can go and smoke a joint, but that will come with time. That is em­i­nently fair.

In essence, the gov­ern­ment is treat­ing the smok­ing of mar­i­juana the same way it is treat­ing al­co­hol and cig­a­rettes. What can be wrong with that?

Ad­vo­cates say the gov­ern­ment plan will make it dif­fi­cult to buy mar­i­juana, and so it should, es­pe­cially at this ini­tial stage of le­gal­iza­tion.

We reg­u­late the sale of al­co­hol and cig­a­rettes. We don’t al­low al­co­hol to be sold in ev­ery store on ev­ery street cor­ner, and when you go to buy cig­a­rettes, you are re­quired to show iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that says you are at the right age to smoke. There is noth­ing unique about mar­i­juana that re­quires its users to be given spe­cial treat­ment.

What is of­ten lost or ig­nored in this de­bate is that we re­ally don’t know the full health and psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of mar­i­juana use, es­pe­cially on the youth. Many users and ad­vo­cates be­lieve recre­ational use is be­nign, but there is a large body of med­i­cal opin­ion that the drug has a dele­te­ri­ous im­pact on young peo­ple.

It is be­lieved that mar­i­juana use could im­pair brain de­vel­op­ment in young adults, and while some may pooh-pooh the sug­ges­tion, so­ci­ety as a whole can­not sim­ply dis­miss it.

Po­lice and other au­thor­i­ties worry about its im­pact on driv­ers and there are many other con­cerns that the gov­ern­ment can­not just ig­nore. There have to be re­stric­tions, there have to be some con­trols as we nav­i­gate this brave new world of le­gal­iza­tion.

A time may come when the door will be thrown wide open, but for now, this is some­thing that re­quires mon­i­tor­ing and re­search so we learn the right lessons.

The gov­ern­ment is right to make haste slowly.

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