Health officer joins call to decriminalize pot

Dr. Andrew Larder and other members of the Health Officers’ Council of BC lent their support to the most recent Stop the Violence report.

The smoke is beginning to clear on cannabis prohibition and it’s obvious the government’s war on drugs is failing, says the Interior Health Authority’s medical health officer.

Dr. Andrew Larder and other members of the Health Officers’ Council of BC lent their support to the most recent Stop the Violence report — released Dec. 22 — which provided evidence that, despite big increases in the money spent on drug law enforcement, the prevalence of cannabis use in particular has increased.

“The reason there was unanimous support for this report was that it really aligns very well with the position and the discussion that we as the health officer council have been having for a number of years,” he said.

The council — which includes all medical health officers throughout the province as well as physicians, researchers and consultants — says it is not asserting marijuana is safe, but that policy as it stands puts the public at even greater risk.

The public is wary of the dangers of drinking and driving, he added, but there’s very little knowledge or research around using pot and driving for the same reason.

“It’s clear prohibition isn’t working,” he said.

The price of marijuana is lower, there is greater potency and wider usage, and there is increased gang violence related to the provision and selling of drugs in general, said Dr. Larder.

Arrests and cannabis seizures jumped when anti-drug funding increased, according to the report, but none of the other anticipated impacts materialized and, in fact, cannabis use rose.

The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey showed 27 per cent of B.C. youth between 15 and 24 smoked marijuana at least once in the previous year. Since 2007, most of the $260 million in federal funding against drugs has been allocated to policing. Between 1990 to 2009, arrests have increased by 70 per cent.

The report from the Stop the Violence BC coalition — a group of former Vancouver mayors, former B.C. Supreme Court justice Ross Lander and B.C.’s former chief coroner Vince Cain — said instead of criminalizing pot, Ottawa should regulate and tax it.

However, for the time being the federal justice minister stands by the decision not to decriminalize or legalize marijuana.

In Ottawa on Sunday, federal Liberal delegates at a three-day party convention added their voice to the issue by endorsing a non-binding recommendation the party support legalizing marijuana use and regulate its distribution.

Amongst the B.C. population over the age of 15, 79 per cent drink alcohol, 15 per cent use tobacco, 17 per cent use cannabis while four per cent use other illegal substances.

The numbers change dramatically when the potential harm associated with the substances is considered, said Dr. Larder. Tobacco accounts for 17 per cent of all deaths in the population, alcohol accounts for four per cent, while all illegal drug use accounts for .8 per cent.

For hospital stays (number of days in acute care facilities), 10 per cent of the stays are due to tobacco use, seven per cent are related to alcohol and 1.6 per cent are due to illegal drugs.

“You should take into account the magnitude of the harm caused by these substances, when you determine the precise measures you take when you regulate them,” Dr. Larder concluded.