Local MP says it is about time for legalization

NDP would like any tax benefits that come the government’s way to be targeted for health and research

Ottawa released a suite of bills in the House of Commons Thursday that will ultimately result in the legalization of recreational marijuana by the summer of 2018, and local NDP MP Richard Cannings said it is about time.

“We have been waiting for this for a long time and have been calling for decriminalization for years and years,” he said. “We are happy to see legislation like this and hope to see some sort of provision for pardons for young people who are saddled with criminal records for possession. We are disappointed that they continue to arrest people for simple possession … it is a sad state of affairs to have a life-long criminal record because you were waiting for politicians to legalize.”

Prohibition has yet to get pot out of the hands of children, say those who have shaped the bills. Twenty-one per cent of youth and 30 per cent of young adults in Canada use cannabis, which are some of the highest rates in the world. Regulation will allow only those 18 and older to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis in public, share up to 30 grams with other adults, and buy cannabis or cannabis oil from a provincially regulated retailer, according to the plan. Selling cannabis to a minor will become a specific offence, for the first time in the history of the Criminal Code.

The Liberals also say there will be “severe penalties” for those who engage young people in cannabis-related offences and they intend to take a “zero-tolerance approach” to drug-impaired driving.

The argument for legalization of marijuana from a health perspective is very weak, says the president of Doctors of B.C.

Dr. Alan Ruddiman, who has operated his physician practice in Oliver for the past 21 years, says the potential legalization of marijuana leaves the medical community taking a very guarded position.

While Ruddiman said they will scrutinize the broad consultation that is needed to determine how to roll this out, the “biggest red flag” is that it could do more harm than good.

Cannings said the NDP would like to see any tax benefits that come the government’s way to be targeted for health and research. He added there are groups in Penticton like Discovery House and Pathways that could use funding from tax benefits to help people get their lives back together.

The federal government introduced legislation based on a 106-page report titled The Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada. It provided some 80 recommendations on how the federal Liberal government should proceed.

Ruddiman says his association stands by the recommendation of the Canadian Medical Association that Canadians under the age of 21 not be allowed to legally smoke or obtain marijuana, and that regulations should be in place to restrict quantity and the potency the the drug.

Related: Doctors raise concerns about legalizing pot

What doctors do know, Ruddiman added, is that marijuana use can impair one’s ability to drive a motor vehicle, increase accidents in general, induce poor psychological performances for youth, exacerbate drug addiction and dependency issues, and present health condition problems for pregnant women and people with diabetes, emphysema and cardio vascular diseases. He says doctors acknowledge that cannabis can be helpful for certain conditions, specifically neuropathic pain and excessive vomiting or nausea for cancer patients, but there is no evidence to say it is medically effective beyond that.

Ruddiman said while there is much discussion about the impact of prescription drugs on our personal health care, such drugs must be put through rigorous tests and trials before being approved by Health Canada.

— With files from Barry Gerding/Black Press