On October 9th of this year, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) released new recommendations for how Canada should treat marijuana. This is encouraging news from Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital. Their opinion matters, as the CAMH is one of the world's leading research centres in its field.
The CAMH’s “Cannabis Policy Framework recommends a legalization with strict regulation approach to cannabis control.” Their new report concludes that current cannabis control fails to moderate marijuana consumption and leads to health risks for those acquiring cannabis illegally.
According to a CAMH estimate, 40 per cent of Canadians have consumed cannabis at least once in their lifetime, while 10 per cent have consumed it in the last year. Canadians consume cannabis at one of the highest rates in the world, yet Canadian cannabis control remains dated.
Dr. Joanna Henderson, Clinical Psychologist and Head of Research in the Child Youth and Family Program at CAMH added: “My experience is that youth perceive cannabis as being natural and therefore not harmful. But we know that cannabis use has been linked to changes in cognitive functioning and that it can be particularly harmful for youth.”
Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at CAMH, maintains that an updated cannabis control system would benefit public health: “Cannabis use is associated with a variety of health harms like problems with cognitive and psychomotor functioning, respiratory issues, cannabis dependence and mental illness.”
Dr. Rehm, continues, “for this reason, any reform of Canada’s system of cannabis control must include a strong focus on prevention and a range of interventions aimed at groups that are at higher risk of harm, including youth and people with a personal or family history of mental illness.”
According to CAHM’s report, criminalization of cannabis does not deter consumption, but drives cannabis consumers away from prevention, risk reduction, and treatment services. Illegal consumption of cannabis also exposes Canadians to questionable cannabis products, other drugs, and the risk of a criminal record. CAHM also calculated that $1.2 billion is spent on the enforcement of cannabis laws.
The CAHM’s researchers are adding to the worldwide momentum of cannabis legalization, although are emphasizing tight controls on cannabis consumption to accompany legalization. The organization proposes that following legalization, safe cannabis consumption can be ensured by a government monopoly on sales, setting a minimum age of legal consumption, limiting retail availability and selling times, and prohibiting cannabis marketing and advertising.
“We’ve known for a long time that the existing approach to cannabis policy is not working,” said Dr. Rehm. Tighter cannabis control after legalization is a common reality in most countries undertaking cannabis policy reform, though the focus on public health and the safety of youth and at-risk individuals makes CAHM’s proposal uniquely Canadian.
A detailed look at CAHM’s proposed updates to the cannabis control policy can be found here.