MPs urged to push for­ward with le­gal

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A se­nior pub­lic health rep­re­sen­ta­tive tells MPs study­ing the gov­ern­ment’s cannabis le­gal­iza­tion leg­is­la­tion that the time for ac­tion on cannabis is now as the so­ci­etal harms as­so­ci­ated with the drug’s use are al­ready be­ing felt ev­ery day in Canada. “You have also heard calls that we are not ready for le­gal­iza­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, we don’t have the lux­ury of time as Cana­di­ans are al­ready con­sum­ing cannabis at record lev­els,” Ian Cul­bert, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Pub­lic Health As­so­ci­a­tion, told the House of Com­mons health com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day. Cul­bert’s mes­sage comes just one day after se­nior po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tives told the com­mit­tee that they will not be ready to en­force new laws by next sum­mer and are ask­ing the gov­ern­ment for more time. That echoes the mes­sage that sev­eral prov­inces have been de­liv­er­ing in re­cent months. Earlier today, Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale said the gov­ern­ment was stick­ing to its timetable to le­gal­ize cannabis by July 1, 2018. “The time­frame is a solid one, the dead­line is 10 months away, or 11 months away, so there’s time there to move for­ward,” Goodale said, not­ing a meet­ing is sched­uled with pre­miers in Novem­ber to check on progress. “We be­lieve that the time­frame we’ve set out is rea­son­able. We’ve put new money on the ta­ble to help achieve the ob­jec­tives and the mood among all of those that need to work on this is a con­struc­tive mood.” Goodale said the gov­ern­ment is lis­ten­ing to the feed­back it is get­ting. Cul­bert said the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion and even­tual reg­u­la­tion is the gov­ern­ment’s best at­tempt to min­i­mize the harms of cannabis use and pro­tect the well-be­ing of all Cana­di­ans. “Our first ef­forts may not be per­fect. But per­fec­tion is not re­quired, as we can mod­ify our ap­proaches as we learn from our ex­pe­ri­ences,” he said. Cul­bert high­lighted the leg­is­la­tion’s es­tab­lish­ment of a safe sup­ply as im­por­tant be­cause any­one con­sum­ing cannabis now is “play­ing a game of Rus­sian roulette,” never know­ing the qual­ity of the prod­uct or if it’s been laced with other more pow­er­ful psy­choac­tive sub­stances. The com­mit­tee also heard calls for the gov­ern­ment to re­move pro­posed crim­i­nal penal­ties for youth found in pos­ses­sion of more than five grams of cannabis. Scott Bern­stein, a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst with the Cana­dian Drug Pol­icy Coali­tion, called the crim­i­nal pro­vi­sions for youth “mis­guided” and the ex­pec­ta­tion it will ad­just be­hav­iour “not borne out by the ev­i­dence.” In­stead, Bern­stein said, crim­i­nal sanc­tions should be sub­sti­tuted with “soft ap­proaches” such as coun­selling and com­mu­nity ser­vice. The coali­tion also rec­om­mended the gov­ern­ment re­move crim­i­nal sanc­tions around the “so­cial shar­ing” of cannabis with young peo­ple and that adults be per­mit­ted to pro­vide cannabis to their own mi­nor chil­dren in a pri­vate res­i­dence, sim­i­lar to the rules for al­co­hol. Un­der the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, an adult shar­ing cannabis with a young per­son is pun­ish­able by up to 14 years in prison. Bern­stein calls that penalty “dra­co­nian.” Much of Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing fo­cused on how best to limit and dis­cour­age the use of cannabis by Cana­dian youth. Cul­bert said it’s about “nor­mal­iz­ing” the con­ver­sa­tion. “We are as a so­ci­ety very un­com­fort­able. We don’t like talk­ing about sex. We’re not great about talk­ing about al­co­hol. And we have a sig­nif­i­cant par­a­digm shift go­ing here when it comes to cur­rently il­le­gal psy­choac­tive sub­stances,” Cul­bert told MPs. Drug Free Kids Canada has al­ready be­gun a na­tional preven­tion ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign, dis­tribut­ing more than 100,000 copies of a brochure that is sup­ported by a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar mul­ti­me­dia pro­gram. “Whether the min­i­mum age for recre­ational cannabis con­sump­tion is set at 18, 21 or 25, it’s not go­ing to mat­ter much if we don’t equip par­ents and kids with bet­ter ap­proaches to deal­ing with drug use,” Marc Paris, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Drug Free Kids Canada, told the com­mit­tee. A 2015 sur­vey con­ducted by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment found 21 per cent of youth aged 15 to 19 and 30 per cent of young adults aged 20 to 24 used cannabis. Many health of­fi­cials have urged the gov­ern­ment to raise the min­i­mum age of use higher than the pro­posed 18, cit­ing con­cerns about the harm of cannabis on the de­vel­op­ing brain. Christina Grant of the Cana­dian Pae­di­atric So­ci­ety told the com­mit­tee that al­though pro­hibit­ing use un­til the mid-20s would pro­tect a pe­riod of crit­i­cal brain de­vel­op­ment, ado­les­cents and young adults are al­ready ex­per­i­ment­ing fre­quently with mar­i­juana. Grant said align­ing the le­gal age for cannabis with other legally con­trolled sub­stances would help en­sure youth have ac­cess to a reg­u­lated prod­uct with a known po­tency. Grant did, how­ever, ad­vo­cate the gov­ern­ment only make lower po­tency cannabis avail­able to those un­der 25. Source: CBC News

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