Werner's Blog — Opinion, Analysis, Commentary
Discouraging marijuana use

There seems to be a widespread misperception that advocating for legalizing marijuana is the same as promoting marijuana use. Of course, many people who support legalization also use marijuana, such as B.C.'s self-proclaimed "prince of pot" Marc Emery. It may come as a surprise to some that it is entirely consistent to discourage marijuana use—as I do—and at the same time call for an end to marijuana prohibition. While health benefits of marijuana have been asserted for people with chronic pain, there are also well-documented health risks of marijuana, especially for children. Legalization of marijuana must go hand in hand with advocating responsible use and discouraging use by children (as we do for alcohol). Therefore, I see no conflict between Health Canada's campaign against marijuana use, as was reported by André Picard in the Globe and Mail on August 18 and those who advocate for legalization, such as the Liberal Party of Canada. As Health Minister Rona Ambrose was quoted saying: "Whether pot is legal or illegal, the health risks of smoking marijuana remain the same". She is right. However, reducing these health risks are much easier in an environment where marijuana is legalized, controlled, taxed, and discouraged.

‘Reducing health risk from marijuana use is easier in an environment where it is legalized, controlled, taxed, and discouraged.’

In her blog Legal Marijuana for Parents, but Not Their Kids, Tara Parker-Pope points out that marijuana use among teenagers is common. She worries that "once a product is legal, it becomes much easier for underage users to obtain it." Yet, the fact that so many teenagers seem to have no problems accessing the drug suggests that marijuana is already easily available. The criminal organizations that control the illegal marijuana business have no hesitation of peddling it, very profitably, to children. Ms. Parker-Pope is correct in pointing out that marijuana use in adolescents can have serious long-term health effects. The young brain seems to be more susceptible to mind-altering substances. As a result, substance abuse and addiction often start during adolescence. So what is to be done? I agree with Ms. Parker-Pope's conclusion that the focus should be on delaying the use of marijuana in adolescents. This is what we already do with alcohol and tobacco. Combined with education and awareness, teenagers can be steered away from use.

If marijuana is bad for kids, why is it good for some adults? After all, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that medical marijuana helps with chronic pain and other debilitating conditions. There are two points to this argument. First, we need a lot more research on medical marijuana. What makes it work, why do different strands generate different outcomes, and so on. The illegality of the drug has made it a no-go area for research. Making the drug legal may stimulate research by pharmaceutical companies into improving medicinal use. Second, medicinal use of marijuana is correlated with age because many of the related medical conditions are more common in older people. As Ms. Parker-Pope has put it, marijuana is for parents but not for kids.

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 08:35 — #Health | #Politics
© 2024  Prof. Werner Antweiler, University of British Columbia.
[Sauder School of Business] [The University of British Columbia]