It has been one of the most debated issues in the country and this past week the legalize marijuana movement got some added support with the Health Officers’ Council (HOC) of B.C. saying now is the time for legalization.
As an organization made up of public health physicians, the HOC’s endorsement of a new report by the community health and wellness group, Stop the Violence B.C., adds an educated voice to the side of marijuana legalization proponents. One of those voices is Paul Martiquet, medical health officer of the Sea to Sky region for Vancouver Coastal Health.
“I’m a supporter of this,” said Martiquet, who noted that the prohibition on marijuana is similar to the one placed on alcohol during the early 1900s.
The Stop the Violence B.C. report claims that anti-marijuana law enforcement in Canada has failed in its most basic objectives, which was to curb usage and production. In fact, the report makes the claim that current government’s style of enforcement has actually contributed to other consequences associated with the drug, including gang violence.
The report concludes that only by legalizing the substance in a controlled situation can the government truly end the crime associated with the production and sale of pot.
According to Martiquet, the current stigma currently surrounding marijuana usage is entirely blown out of proportion, and he hopes that Canada never ends up with an enforcement strategy similar to what’s currently going on in the U.S., where punishment for small amounts of marijuana possession can include jail time.
“I think that giving people a criminal record for possession for moderate amounts of marijuana is wrong,” he said. “It criminalizes people and alters their lives in ways that can’t be undone.”
Martiquet also said that he agrees with the idea that the current enforcement method has created the criminal element associated with marijuana production and selling.
“I think that when you’re talking about a $6 billion industry that’s illegal, the only way to resolve disputes is by violence and we’ve seen that escalating over the last many years,” he said. “So, essentially speaking, the prohibition of marijuana is fuelling organized crime and violence.”
According to the report, the National Anti-Drug Strategy has received at least $260 million in government funding since 2007 — most of which was allocated for drug law enforcement.
However, as funding for drug enforcement has increased over the years, so has the number of youth trying marijuana. The report says 27 per cent of youth aged 15 to 24 admitted to having tried the drug in the previous year. In Ontario, marijuana use has almost doubled since the early 1990s amongst high school students, with over 20 per cent admitting to it in 2009 compared with under 10 per cent in 1991.
And along with an increase in use by young people, the additional enforcement funding over the years has also led to an increase in drug-related charges in Canada. There was a 160 per cent increase in cannabis-related arrests and a 420 per cent increase in cannabis-related seizures between 1990 and 2009, according to the report.
“The unmistakable interpretation of government surveillance data is that increased funding for anti-cannabis law enforcement does increase cannabis seizures and arrests,” concludes the report. “But the assumption that this approach reduces cannabis potency, increase price or meaningfully reduces cannabis availability and use is inconsistent with virtually all available data.”
Instead, the report urges lawmakers to look at a regulating the substance similar to alcohol and tobacco and create a safe and controlled environment around marijuana use.
“The idea of strictly regulating the sale and use of marijuana as we do liquor and tax free Pall Mall cigarettes make perfect sense to me and it’s something that our local, provincial and federal governments should get in to,” said Martiquet.