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Marijuana legalization: Canada turns a new leaf

Marijuana legalization: Canada turns a new leaf

By Surbhi Gogia

Marijuana — a taboo topic in many homes will become a legal business. What parents need to know about it

Marijuana was first banned in Canada in 1923, with regulated medical Cannabis becoming legal in 2001 for its health benefits. But eventually Canadian government decided to legalizes the use of marijuana for recreational purpose. Legalization means that the government would create a system to regulate marijuana production, distribution and sale. It would also collect licensing fees and taxes on marijuana sales, which officials say would take profits away from criminals and organized crime.

The strongest argument raised in favour of legalization is that Canadian youth have one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world and legalization will save kids from having access to it. Prohibition has not deterred youth for from using Cannabis. It has rather fuelled more kids and youth to use it and the distribution and sale of Cannabis has led to increase in organized crime and gang violence.

Although the federal government will provide minimum conditions, but the provinces would be setting more rules about legal age, distribution and sale on top of those. Some provinces are in favour of keeping the minimum age as 18 years and others feel it should be 21. The new policy would create tougher criminal offences for selling marijuana to a minor. Also once the distribution and sales are under government, it would affect the gang activity — saving many of our youth especially the South Asian youth from falling into the traps of gangs.

It may sound like a great news for parents for they would worry less about their kids to be caught in a gang nexus. But with its legalization, parents would have much greater and responsible role to play. Until now, it was fairly easy for parents to say “look, it’s illegal, don’t buy it.” End of conversation. But now they can’t do that. Now a taboo topic will become a government-backed business, complete with storefronts and advertising.

Desi Today invited various experts to discuss what pot legalization entails and advice parents on how to talk to their kids about it. But all of them had one most important suggestion which is — the best approach is for parents to educate themselves on the realities of cannabis. The experts believe not many South Asian parents have been active enough to talk to their kids when it was illegal. But now it is high time that parents educate themselves with the right knowledge about cannabis,  its pros and cons, and why the government decided to legalize it and about its negative impacts on physical and psychological health as well as workplace and school performance.

Here is what our experts have to says:

Kash Heed

Former head of VPD Drug Unit

Kash Heed is the former head of VPD Drug Unit, Indo-Canadian Gang Violence Task Force and a long time supporter of marijuana legalization. He says that law enforcement approach to the marijuana industry in BC has been ineffective so far. “For over 30 years, I was strictly enforcing the law around marijuana policy in Canada. As the commanding officer of VPD’s drug unit, we made record breaking arrests of the people involved in illegal production and sale of marijuana in the city of Vancouver. We went after them very assertively. Although we managed to move a lot of them out of the city of Vancouver, we recognized the fact that we did not reduce the amount of marihuana that was being produced; I think we actually amplified it outside the city of Vancouver. The growers and people we had busted in Vancouver moved out into Surrey, Fraser Valley, and elsewhere in BC. We even traced them setting up across Canada.”

Even most of the South Asian community’s problems related to gang violence too result from the production and distribution of this drug because according to him marijuana is a plant which is very easy to grow.

While working as the commanding officer of the drug unit and Heed was also working towards a Masters degree in criminology. “I researched why massive investments in law enforcement did not reduce marijuana use or related crime. The reason? Money. The marijuana industry in B.C. is estimated to be worth up to $6 billion annually. Fifty percent of all illicit drug profits worldwide come from the sale of marijuana. The profits generated are enormous and, for some, worth killing for. When gang members are convicted and jailed, new and violent gang members are only too eager to use intimidation, guns and murder to take their place.”

“And I came to one inescapable conclusion – cannabis prohibition fuels gang violence in B.C. In fact, costly law enforcement efforts have only served to drive the marijuana industry deeper into the hands of violent organized crime groups,” he says.

In November 2001, Heed recalls testifying before a Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. “My message to the Upper House was three-pronged: Pot prohibition doesn’t work. I said no matter what we do, we will never be able to arrest our way out of this problem. I strongly recommended that they look at the alternatives, including regulation.”

When Heed suggested that marijuana prohibition had failed and contributed to organized crime, he says he took significant heat from others in the law enforcement community. But he was determined to stop the endless cycle of gang violence. He joined Stop the Violence BC (STVBC), a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, medical and public health officials, and academic experts concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition in B.C. and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province. STVBC supported implementing a strictly regulated market for the adult consumption of cannabis.

Today, under cannabis prohibition, youth have easier access to marijuana than alcohol or tobacco. “As a law enforcement leader and former minister of public safety who has spent more than 33 years creating and enforcing laws, I know that a strictly regulated marijuana market for adult cannabis use would better protect youth through the use of regulatory tools that have proven so effective in reducing tobacco use.”

Now Canada has decided to legalize marijuana for recreational market. “Our purpose for marijuana legalization is to prevent youth from having easy access and take the proceeds from organized crime. We are moving in the right direction but a lot needs to be done.”

Heed is of the view that government should have a stricter control over the production and sale of the drug. “Right now the unfortunate part is provinces are left to set their own regulations be it the minimum legal age for the consumption of marijuana or the distribution of it into the retail market. Some provinces want to control all the retail while some want to give it to entrepreneurs where a few want to have a mix of both. I think BC will go with the blend,” he says.

But Heed is a firm believer that there should have been some consistency across the country. “At least for the first few years the government should have had very strict control over the production and sale of it.”

Also he says instead of considering Marijuana legalization as “cash cows” where government can pocket the profits, the money should be dedicated topublic programs, including health and education.

He says that no parent would want their kids to smoke marijuana. “We don’t want our kids to use it. But they will ask a lot of questions. It is important for government to spend the money in educating public about its health and safety risks.” He says eventually that knowledge will trickle down to parents and kids.

Legalization Means Regulating and Restricting Access to Cannabis

By Barinder Rasode

President and CEO of NICHE Canada

This year, the federal government will pass legislation to legalize the cannabis industry. It’s a huge societal reform and there are many questions that still need to be answered and many concerns that still need to be alleviated before our country is ready for this big shift.

Legalization means regulating and restricting access to cannabis. It means implementing laws to keep the products out of the hands of our youth and the profits out of the hands of criminal organizations. The fact is, prohibition has not deterred young people from using cannabis and it has led to a lucrative black market.

By legalizing cannabis, the country can implement and enforce laws that protect our youth, prohibit impaired driving, and protect employers and employees.

Legalization will also support, legitimize and advance the important research taking place into the many medical uses of cannabis. And, patients will have access to new and better products to treat their medical conditions. There is a staggering number of studies and anecdotal evidence supporting cannabis treatment for anxiety, stress, opioid addiction and the painful effects of cancer treatments, to name a few.

Legalization will also add billions of dollars to the economy that will be used to pay for the government services we all rely on. In 2016, the State of Colorado generated nearly $200 million in tax revenue, thanks to $1.3 billion in cannabis revenue.

Despite these benefits, there are a number of steps that governments across the country need to take in order to get it right. The focus on public safety and public health requires strategic partnerships to support research, policy, public education and new resources for health and law enforcement stakeholders.

The National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education (NICHE) is a not-for-profit corporation established to support the development of public policy and research to assist all levels of government manage the safe transition to legal cannabis. Working with the academic community, governments, industry partners, health advocates, law enforcement and interested stakeholders, we provide a collaborative, transparent, and fact-based forum for public dialogue and discussion across Canada.

At NICHE, we are working with industry to establish college-based training programs to meet the training needs of the sector, as well as hosting government and industry discussions to identify common challenges and collaborative approaches.

Ultimately, our goal is to support the development of policies and regulations that have the health and safety of Canadians as the fundamental priority.

And, public education is the foundation for the successful implementation of a legalized cannabis regime: we must keep our youth safe, keep our roads safe and reduce the impact of criminal activity. This will happen through education.

Extensive collaboration between industry, post-secondary institutions and government will be required to create a well-trained, well-educated and prepared work force to meet both legislative and consumer demand. Research and data will be an important tool in the evolution of provincial regulations to ensure public health and public safety goals are met.

With cannabis legalization coming this year, kids are more likely to be talking about it with each other. And, while it can be difficult to talk to your kids about things like drugs and alcohol, it’s important to open a dialogue and start the conversation early. As with any sensitive topic, creating a trustworthy bond will help guide the discussion in the right direction. And, remember, it’s never too early to start talking.

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