New report says regulating marijuana may reduce harm
From taxation to age restrictions, a new report outlines the broad features of a legally regulated market for marijuana that bears many similarities to tobacco and alcohol control.
The 29-page document, Breaking the Silence: Cannabis Prohibition, Organized Crime and Gang Violence in B.C., is the first of a series by a new coalition of academic, health, and legal experts calling for drug-law reforms.
Members of Stop the Violence B.C. include Dr. Evan Wood, director of the Urban Health Research Initiative of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
“Through a strict regulatory public-health approach, we could actually not only undercut organized crime but also reduce the health-related harms of cannabis,” Wood told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “There’s a whole science on how to treat different substances, to reduce rates of use. And our greatest success is tobacco.”
Set for release today (October 27), the report shows how the huge illegal market, both domestic and international, for B.C. bud—estimated at $7 billion a year—has enriched criminal organizations and fuelled violence among gangs.
It presents regulation as a public-health concept with the objective of starting a serious public discussion about alternatives to marijuana prohibition.
“Stop the Violence B.C., along with several leading medical and public-health bodies, including the Health Officers’ Council of B.C. and the Canadian Public Health Association, support the notion of ‘regulation’ of cannabis rather than outright legalization,” the report states. “A regulated market for cannabis specifically refers to a legal market for adult recreational cannabis use, with strict regulatory controls placed upon it.”
It notes that age restrictions similar to tobacco and alcohol regulations could limit access by youth to marijuana. Days and hours of sale can also be limited, like those for alcohol. Bulk sales may likewise be regulated to prevent diversion to minors. The report cites the practice in the Netherlands, where buyers can purchase only up to five grams.
To limit public-nuisance issues related to weed use, the report points to the Dutch coffee-shop model as a way to restrict open consumption. It also suggests the imposition of severe rules prohibiting driving or operating machinery while under the influence.
“Strict regulations on marketing and product branding would reduce exposure to advertising, which is known to affect rates of alcohol and tobacco use,” the report states.
Purchasers could be issued prescriptions or permits, much like those being used in medical-marijuana dispensaries.
“Taxation (i.e., increasing consumer price barriers) has been shown to affect levels of alcohol and tobacco use and could be applicable to cannabis,” the report also notes.
Marijuana regulation also makes good economic sense. The report cites estimates of potential new revenue in California of between $990 million and $1.4 billion annually. It also states that nationwide regulation of cannabis in the U.S. would save $44.1 billion per year in law-enforcement expenses.
In the interview, Wood pointed to another potential benefit. “We currently have this sort of forbidden-fruit phenomenon with cannabis being illegal,” he said. “And many people believe that young people are attracted to use cannabis for exactly that reason: because it’s illegal. A strict regulatory public-health framework that takes away the glamour out of it, that’s another mechanism through which we might be able to reduce rates of use.”
The coalition also released results of a poll taken last month by Angus Reid Public Opinion showing strong support among British Columbians for taxing and regulating adult use of marijuana. Sixty-nine percent agreed that going after producers and buyers isn’t effective.
“British Columbians are saying that they would prefer that we have a shift in drug policy,” UVic professor and coalition member Susan Boyd told the Straight in a phone interview from Vancouver.
The study also addresses the question of whether or not regulation will increase the use of marijuana. It points to Portugal, where all drug consumption was decriminalized in 2001. The paper states that the rate of cannabis use in Portugal remains among the lowest in the European Union.