Tag Archives: marijuana

Tom Stringham: Marijuana is not a medicine

Canadian potheads, ill and otherwise, are abuzz as the emerging market for legal “medical” marijuana begins to take shape. As of April this year, cannabis sold in Canada may be produced industrially. So far, thirteen firms are licensed to produce the drug commercially across the country, but dozens more are making applications and could join the market in the coming months.

The growth in industrial supply coincides with a massive increase in the number of licensed medical users. A decade ago, the number of licensees was less than a thousand nationwide. As of this month, there are more than 40,000, and the population of licit cannabis users will grow to more than 300,000 by 2024.

As predicted by many observers, the federal medical marijuana policy is quickly turning into a legal marijuana regime. The National Post reported on a dispensary in Vancouver where an on-staff naturopath “prescribes” the drug to any customer willing to claim they have any one of a diverse set of maladies. The demand from these faux-medical dispensaries seems to be growing so fast as to outstrip supply.

It’s possible that medical marijuana legalization in theory leads to legal recreational marijuana in practice because, in fact, marijuana is not a medicine.

The New York Times recently reported that researchers in the US are baffled by the political popularity of “medical marijuana”, arguing that compared to pharmaceutical drugs, marijuana has not undergone rigorous testing, and has never been proven to effectively treat the diseases its proponents claim it does—in fact, for patients with certain illnesses, doctors say that smoking marijuana actually has an iatrogenic effect, aggravating the affliction it is meant to treat.

Earlier this year, the American Medical Association reemphasized its opposition to legal marijuana. The Canadian Medical Association continues to aver that “physicians should not be put in the untenable position of gatekeepers” for marijuana, because the drug “has not undergone established regulatory review processes as required for all other prescription medicines.”

“Medical marijuana” policy expands across the Western world, however, in almost total oblivion to medical reality. Canadians shouldn’t be fooled: activists, not doctors, are behind the new drug regime. And getting high, not getting well, is what inspires them.

The Hustings

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Tom Stringham: Ending the drug drama

Western society’s chaotic relationship with recreational drugs continues to tumble and turn. The British Medical Association overwhelmingly passed a motion this week to recommend a ban on tobacco sales to individuals born after 2000, a move that would effectively phase out the drug in the UK over the next century. In another part of the English-speaking world, the state of Washington is preparing to welcome its first wave of legal marijuana retailers in early July. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the West are silent while, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol kills one person every 10 seconds, four times more than are killed by war or violence worldwide.

It’s easy, if you aren’t watching, to miss the fact that the public mood on drug policy is dependent on the drug concerned. Marijuana, in vogue with the media and the political class, is riding a wave of legitimization toward inevitable legalization. Tobacco has lost all of its old glamour, and will be lucky to survive the next few decades unbanned. Alcohol, of course, enjoys its supernal status as our society’s psychoactive drug of choice.

Some of these trends are plausibly explained by concern for public health. It’s true that of the three, marijuana is the least harmful, and tobacco the deadliest by the numbers. But it’s also true that drug policy follows drug culture as much as culture bends to the law.

This idea is illustrated most egregiously by alcohol policies. Despite the fact that alcohol’s personal and societal costs are much higher than any other drug’s, and that most of these costs fall on individuals other than the user, alcohol culture is almost completely legitimized—it’s even celebrated—in most Western jurisdictions. No other recreational drug enjoys the same status. Why? Maybe because the political class enjoys drinking and binging on alcohol.

What explains, then, our falling out with tobacco and new fling with marijuana, if culture can beat public health, as it does with alcohol? Perhaps marijuana is now in the hands of politicians who grew up in an era when it was a popular counter-cultural indulgence. And maybe those politicians’ willingness to campaign against tobacco only reflects that cigarettes are now a habit of the poorest class instead of the richest.

Prohibition doesn’t work, but a sensible drug program would involve the marginalization of all harmful recreational drugs. The drug drama has got to stop, and politicians have got to grow up.

The Hustings

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Karsten Erzinger: The marijuana debate needs nuance

In the push for marijuana decriminalization, there is one thing legalization advocates do consistently: overstate the benefits and understate the downsides. While this is to be expected, what’s disconcerting is the lack of skepticism pundits and the media have towards arguments in favor of legalization. The public would benefit from more skepticism, particularly given the assumptions legalization advocates rely on in their arguments.

One thing commonly overlooked in this debate is the law of unintended consequences. Marijuana legalization, the argument goes, would benefit the government due to the tax revenue that would result. In the next breath, legalization proponents will claim that the black market will disappear the moment the drug is decriminalized.

The problem is that legalization and taxes won’t eradicate the black market; they certainly haven’t with cigarettes, where the black market persists. This will be especially true of marijuana, a plant easily grown and distributed. It’s doubtful that all mom and pop growers will allow the government to take a share of their profits while at the same time subjecting themselves to the regulations and scrutiny that would accompany legalization. Legalization might provide added revenue to the government, but it won’t be as much as claimed and it certainly won’t eradicate the black market at the same time.

The next argument commonly used in favor of legalization is that it will keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. When I think back on my teenage years (which were thankfully not too long ago) the opposite was the case. It was easier to get alcohol than it was marijuana, as you needed to know a shady character to supply you (although both weren’t that difficult to get a hold of). Legalization will simply mean that kids will be able to get their booze and weed at a one-stop shop from an older sibling or friend, rather than having to track down someone of ill-repute willing to supply them. This is something likely to become more common with time following legalization, as the stigmatization of marijuana fades.

There are many problems with the status quo and I am unsure of how they are best addressed. That said, legalization won’t solve the problems that exist with our current system and will add a new set of issues into the mix. While arguments go back and forth, one thing remains certain; more skepticism is needed in this debate.

The Hustings

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