By Anson Liski
In a 52-29 vote, the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-45 to legalize recreational cannabis.
It took the Senate and members of the House of Commons two weeks of deliberation to pass the bill. Recreational cannabis consumption remains illegal in Canada, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that as of October 17, 2018, pot will be legal.
A ‘Marijuana at Work’ conference held by the Globe and Mail in Toronto on Tuesday discussed the issue at length with a group of experts who debated the readiness of Canadian policy for safety in driving and in workplaces. W.A. Bogart professor of law at the University of Windsor said, “Just because the drug is legal, doesn’t mean that there won’t be problems regarding its use.”
Bogart also said that while he believes Canada is not moving too quickly to legalize pot, he does believe, “Canadians should know that cannabis is not a harmless drug.”
One of the greatest concerns discussed by the experts at the conference was discerning policy around the right to use cannabis medicinally and, now recreationally. To get the most out of either recreational or medical use of cannabis, it can be broken down into diminished or increased levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and Cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is the psychoactive agent that makes the smoker feel high, and varying percentages of THC in the cannabis cause different effects. CBD is often considered the medicinal portion of the drug – people experience fewer symptoms of impairment with higher levels of CBD and less THC.
Experts at the conference said researchers and doctors are learning more about the effects cannabis has on the human body every year. Today, they know that there are hundreds of “cannabinoids” (elements in cannabis that have an effect when consumed), that could contribute to impairment – Even if there are low levels of THC.
Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler, Chief Medical Review Officer at DriverCheck Inc., says, “Legalization gives Canadians a false sense of security and that will cause people to use it when they should not, like before or during work or driving.”
Based on data collected from places like Colorado, where marijuana has been legal since 2014, Dr. Adler confirmed that cannabis usage before work is a grave concern, “We already know it’s happening and it is likely going to increase.”
Whether it’s used medically or recreationally, cannabis impairs brain function, Dr. Adler says, “It impairs your ability to recall and learn information, distorts your sense of time, and reaction time; all of which you need to drive safely and work in a safety-sensitive workplace.”
Adler also stressed that pot is no different than any other drug, and that people should not be fooled by legalization as a stamp of approval for safety.
Jeremy Jacob, President of the Canadian Associate of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries is on the complete other side, he says, “That cannabis is actually not as harmful as current legal drugs and medications,” and that, “Canadians are taking more drugs than ever before. There should be a significant concern for these substances, but cannabis is stealing the limelight because of the negative stigma surrounding marijuana.”
As an owner of a medical cannabis dispensary, Jacob says he knows people who take cannabis daily for anxiety and the inability to focus; and he claims it actually improves productivity at work, but that, “It’s all about knowing the cannabinoid profile, or the balance of THC and CBD together, and how they affect the user.”
For example, he says, “I could consume a 10 mg THC cannabis capsule for my back pain and feel great and be completely functional throughout the day, or I could consume 50 mg and be completely useless.”
Jeremy said that there are valid concerns for people who abuse cannabis and how it can impair their ability to drive or perform safely in a safety-sensitive workplace. Yet, there needs to be fair assessment and objectivity when measuring impairment for those who use cannabis as a natural non-toxic medicine.
Legalization of recreational marijuana is hotly debated issue. People on both sides of the debate are interpreting the same information in different ways. Yet, both sides agree that what is at stake is the health of Canadians. It’s clear more information the health concerns over marijuana use is needed. And protecting young, still developing brains.
Only one thing is certain, it doesn’t matter what side you are on now, the Liberals have made good on their election promise, and will legalize the recreational use of cannabis on October 17.
With files from Susan Ponting