Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana in Canada: Review of Potential Economic, Social, and Health Impacts
International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 2016, 5, 8, 453–456.
Notwithstanding a century of prohibition, marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in Canada. Due to the growing public acceptance of recreational marijuana use and ineffectiveness of the existing control system in Canada, the issue surrounding legalizing this illicit drug has received considerable public and political attentions in recent years. Consequently, the newly elected Liberal Government has formally announced that Canada will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to start legalizing and regulating marijuana. This editorial aims to provide a brief overview on potential economic, social, and public health impacts of legal marijuana in Canada. The legalization could increase tax revenue through the taxation levied on marijuana products and could also allow the Government to save citizens’ tax dollars currently being spent on prohibition enforcement. Moreover, legalization could also remove the criminal element from marijuana market and reduce the size of Canada’s black market and its consequences for the society. Nevertheless, it may also lead to some public health problems, including increasing in the uptake of the drug, accidents and injuries. The legalization should be accompanied with comprehensive strategies to keep the drug out of the hands of minors while increasing awareness and knowledge on harmful effects of the drug. In order to get better insights on how to develop an appropriate framework to legalize marijuana, Canada should closely watch the development in the neighboring country, the United States, where some of its states viz, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska have already legalized recreational use of marijuana.
Keywords : Legalization of Marijuana, Economic Effect, Social Effects, Health Effects, Canada
Marijuana (commonly known by the street names “pot,” “weed,” and “grass”) comes from the plant Cannabis sativa (hemp). It is one of the oldest naturally psychoactive substances known to humans and grows naturally in many countries.1,2 Although marijuana has been used for both medicinally and recreationally throughout the world for thousands of years,1 it still remains illegal to grow, use and possess in most countries, including Canada,3 which has been illegal since 1923. Although it is illegal to use marijuana for recreational purposes, its use as a potential therapy is legal and deemed appropriate by the Supreme Court of Canada since July 30, 2001.
Despite almost a century of prohibition, with 43% of Canadians claiming to have used at some point in their life, marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in Canada.4 The prevalence of marijuana use varies by province, gender, and age groups in Canada. According to the data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health (CCHS-MH), while more than 14% of Canadian (aged 15 and older) living in Nova Scotia and British Columbia reported that they have inhaled at least once in the past year, this figure was almost 10% in the Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. Canadian youth has the highest rate of marijuana use among developed countries, with almost a quarter of the population aged 15 to 24 years reporting past-year use.5 Males are also more likely to have reported past-year use than their females counterparts in all age groups.4
Due to the ineffectiveness of the current system of prohibition in Canada, the issue surrounding legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana has attracted significant political and media attentions in recent years. Decriminalization of marijuana would mean that the personal use of the substance is still illegal and can lead to a small legal fine, but no longer classified as a criminal offense. Legalization of marijuana, on the other hand, means that marijuana would be legally available to adults.6 Legalization, which allows governments to regulate the use and sale of marijuana like tobacco and alcohol, has been a very controversial issue due to various moral, ethical, public health, legislative and logistic issues associated with the matter. The proponents of the legalization, for example, argue that the use of marijuana is much less associated with income generating crime because it is insignificant component of household budgets and has lower danger in terms of possibility of overdose, risk of tragic intoxicated behavior and risk of addiction.7 Those opposed to legalization cite concerns such as increased use8,9 and potential abuse and easing the manner by which minors manage to purchase and use the drug.10,11
The results from public opinion polls conducted over the past two decades have revealed that an increasing majority of Canadians agree with the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.12–16 For example, a recent poll conducted in 2015 by the Forum Research suggested that 68% of Canadians favor relaxing marijuana regulations in Canada.17 The public support for legalization has been slowly garnering media attention, putting pressure on the legislatures and the Government to amend the outdated laws surrounding the drugs use. The issue of legalizing marijuana have been featured by multiple news agencies since 2015 (eg,18,19). With considerable public, and media support, it came as no surprise to see a large part, of the Liberals’ election campaign was centered on the issue of the legalizing marijuana. Subsequently, the newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publically endorsed the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in November 2015 and is currently working on the legal framework to introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to start the process of regulating and legalizing marijuana.20 A federal bill to legalize marijuana would make Canada the first developed country to legalize marijuana in the world. There is still a lot of work to be done if Canada aims to pursue the Liberal goal of legalization of Marijuana. There are three international conventions that Canada is a part of that and need to be changed in order for any progress to be made: the Convention of Psychotropic Substances of 1971; the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol; and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. All these international conventions require its participant countries to criminalize the production and possession of marijuana. Although it may not be necessary for Canada to completely withdraw from all these conventions, Canada should indicate that legalizing recreational marijuana will reduce the consumption of the illicit drug.21 Thus, not only is it evident that massive reform is required in terms of issues surrounding the legalization in Canada, but also ensuring that the reform is implemented with the utmost consideration and care remains critical. This editorial briefly reviews some of the potential economic, social and health outcomes of legal marijuana in Canada.