Marijuana legislation Bill C-45 doesn’t safeguard youth: expert

Published On May 30, 2017 | By Beatriz Baleeiro | News, Politics
Marijuana Legislation: People roll a marijuana joint on the informal cannabis holiday, 4/20.

People roll a marijuana joint on the informal cannabis holiday, 4/20. (Courtesy: Reuters)

By: Meaghan Wray and Hiba Traboulsi

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published an editorial yesterday pointing out issues in Bill C-45, an act which would legalize marijuana in Canada by July 2018.

The federal plan to legalize marijuana nationally was partially in an effort to crack down on dealers who target minors and individuals who drive under the influence. However, if the bill is passed as is, people as young as 18 will be able to buy marijuana legally, via mail and in person, or grow up to four plants in their own home.

In the journal article “Cannabis legislation fails to protect Canada’s youth”, Dr. Diane Kelsall, editor-in-chief of the CMAJ, rejects claims the bill will be for the betterment of public health.

“There were some provisions in the bill that are contrary to protection for the brains of youth,” she said in an interview with Humber News. “We know that marijuana smoking, in particular, can harm adults too, you’re inhaling into your lungs… But one of the big issues with youth in particular is it has effects on the developing brain.”

There are serious ramifications of marijuana use in young people, Dr. Kelsall said, like an increase of mental disorders like depression, anxiety, psychosis, as well as poor school performance and cognitive decline. The brain, she said, doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25 and the legislation as it stands still leaves seven years of brain development.

“One of the big things it’s linked to as well is poor lifetime achievements,” she said. “In other words, people who start smoking are at risk of not achieving the things we think are normal.”

“When they looked at studies of people who use marijuana regularly, they see structural changes in the part of the brain on MRI,” Kelsall added. “The response on the brain also looks different between those who smoke marijuana and those who don’t.”

Cannabis potency climbing

Kelsall also noted the varying potency levels of marijuana.

“The marijuana we have now is far more potent than the marijuana that was available in the 60’s and that’s another big issue in the legislation. They’re saying all marijuana is equal and that’s simply not true. And when kids take higher potency of marijuana, the adverse effects experienced are much worse.”

There’s an association between marijuana and dependency, she said, adding that one in six teens who start using marijuana will become dependent on the drug.

Medical marijuana, however, is another story for Kelsall. Like any other medication, she said a doctor should be consulted before treatment is administered.

“There are beneficial effects (of medical marijuana) for people with certain types of health conditions that they haven’t been able to treat in other ways,” she said.

Users bring other perspectives

Some critics are entirely skeptical of the legislation, saying the rules are arbitrary. In a Global News article published on April 20, Jodie Emery, marijuana activist, politician and wife of Liberal Marc Emery, said, “An arbitrary limit of four plants? Really? What’s the fifth plant going to do? Is it going to harm somebody? I don’t get it.”

Vancouver-native Benjamin Sharpe (not his name) started smoking marijuana recreationally in high school at the age of 14.

What began as an experiment in adolescence became, many years later, a means of controlling symptoms of anxiety and depression. But Sharpe doesn’t feel his moderate marijuana use, which he describes as monthly, had any negative impact on his personal development.

“I can’t say it had any (effect), to be honest,” he said. “I still achieved everything I had set out to achieve and have done relatively well so far.”

Two years ago, Sharpe changed from smoking cannabis to consuming marijuana edibles sold at a legal dispensary in downtown Vancouver.

“I suffer from pretty bad anxiety and depression and realized marijuana could be an alternative way of addressing those issues,” Sharpe said. “It allows me to become more in tune with my sense of self. I tend to [consume] it by myself and it provides me ample time to reflect and come to terms with who I am, which helps me face my anxiety and depression.”

Sharpe believes legalizing marijuana will help combat fentanyl-related overdoses by ensuring regulated product. In 2016, 922 people died of drug overdose in B.C. alone.

“I really believe legalizing, yet regulating, marijuana would not only ensure the safety of marijuana consumers, but reduce crime related to drug manufacturing, trafficking and also allow consumers to reap the medicinal benefits from the plant.”

In an April 13 article published in The Globe and Mail, Liberal MP Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, stated we currently have not guarantee marijuana won’t get into the hands of young Canadians.

“Today, the decision to sell or not to sell to that child is often being made by a gangster in a stairwell,” he said. “That is completely unacceptable to us and that will be subject to serious criminal sanction.”

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