Roundtable: Marijuana is a health issue, not a criminal issue

Credit: 
Tessa Warburton
Legalizing cannabis in Canada is a landmark liberalization that highlights a reformed approach to substance use—one based on principles of prevention, harm reduction and enforcement.
 
According to a 2016 National College Health Assessment  survey conducted at Queen’s, 45.3 percent of students have used cannabis at least once in their lifetime. Criminalizing marijuana use hasn’t deterred Canadians from using the drug—it’s only made its use less safe. 
 
By choosing to legalize and regulate cannabis for non-medicinal use, the 
federal government is proactively shifting its focus away from criminalization 
and towards issues of public health and safety.
 
When the supply of cannabis is restricted without addressing demand, the 
“Iron Law of Prohibition” takes hold. The “Iron Law” states that when 
something is made illegal, continuous demand will raise its price, encouraging illicit producers to import greater amounts at greater potencies in order to maximize their profits. 
 
In effect, this leads to stronger strains of cannabis and the proliferation of synthetic cannabis which can be detrimental to the health of the drug’s users. 
 
These high-risk substances are a direct result of the criminalization previously associated with cannabis, and exemplifies the dire need for legalization to be accompanied by thorough regulations.
 
The harms of a prohibitionist approach to cannabis doesn’t stop with the individual user. The economic and social consequences of cannabis prohibition are costly, tragic and discriminatory. 
 
The law enforcement and correctional resources that were allocated to 
cannabis related offences were astronomical and are better directed towards prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. 
 
Black and Indigenous individuals are also disproportionately represented by cannabis possession arrest statistics. 
 
With cannabis being legal and better integrated into our society, we can begin to reconcile the negative impact criminalization has had on marginalized groups.
 
On the distribution side of things, legalization deprives groups affiliated with organized crime a source of revenue. 
 
Now it will be managed legally, many measures of control will be exercised 
over the production, distribution, and use of cannabis that were entirely absent before. This includes the standard dosage, purity, potency, the general quality of a substance and point of sale regulation. 
 
By choosing to legalize and regulate cannabis, the government of Canada  has decided to further extend its health promotion efforts to the segment of the population rather than sweep them under the rug—which put their health and public safety at risk.
 
There are many real health risks associated with cannabis use, and this fact further supports the need for legal regulation when it comes to cannabis in Canada. 
 
When substance use is treated as a health issue instead of a criminal one, opportunities for objective, non-judgmental educational dialogue are created. Under the misguided philosophy of cannabis prohibition such opportunities are the exception—not the rule.
 
Aaron Bailey is a third-year Health Studies major.

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