Recreational marijuana legalization raises more questions than answers

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By Susan Ponting and Richard Landau

No, the sky won’t fall, but many say a seismic shift will happen in our culture as weed is set to be sold by government agencies, local shops, and online – but even that’s unclear

This week, on Wednesday October 17, 2018 recreational marijuana becomes legal across Canada. The federal legislation called, The Cannabis Act, leaves more questions than answers like, where will people be able to purchase cannabis, the impact on personal health, what’s the long term research and effects of smoking marijuana, and what the societal impact will be on Canadians and their communities.

Where information is lacking, we seem to have only conjecture.

Therefore, let’s enumerate some of the questions that many of us have since we cannot seem to find solid, verified answers.

Health and youth

The increased availability of dope will put youths at risk, that much we know.

There is evidence that the impact of marijuana and its active ingredients can be damaging to a developing brain – under the age of 25. Some studies indicate that early exposure to marijuana can lead to psychosis, depression, and some medical professionals say, addiction. Despite this, the federal government has set the minimum legal age at just 18 years old. All provinces and territories except Alberta and Quebec have raised the age to 19 to align with the legal age limit for alcohol. Quebec’s premier-designate Francoise Legault campaigned on raising the legal age to 21.

Dr. Lucinda McQuarrie says marijuana consumption has risks, especially for developing brains under 25.

Dr. Lucinda McQuarrie, a medical doctor in British Columbia, says marijuana has many risks – and deeply affects our coping mechanisms, “When you look at the risk profile – there is great potential for side effects. It is difficult to really know what you’re getting when you take it. The biggest risk for teens is mental health. Your brain is continuing to develop until age 25. Some of the most critical brain developments peak during this time.”

In the rush to change the law, there has been little or no attention to developing a school curriculum that addresses the use of marijuana and long-term side effects.

But the federal government has put new laws in place that would criminally charge anyone who sells or gives pot to a minor with a penalty of up to 14 years in jail. But will that be enough to keep marijuana out of the hands of our youth?

Mental health questions

We know there are medicinal benefits to pot for those who suffer some forms of mental illness, chronic pain and insomnia. But certain unanswered questions keep rearing their ugly heads, and it doesn’t appear that the public is getting answers, for instance:

  • What do we know about the incidence of marijuana addiction? 
  • What percentage of the marijuana tax revenue will be plowed into research and treatment of addiction?
  • What will government do to educate, and to discourage heavy usage and public intoxication? 
  • How will our society promote drug-free, conscious living?
  • How is physical health impacted? What exactly will be inside those pre-packaged joints and/or edibles?

There are risks associated with any substance abuse. Marijuana, though, seems to be that one drug that’s thought not to be harmful, or at least less harmful than smoking or alcohol. This may be true, but the volume of research on pot is far less than what’s available for other substances like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse – and like cigarettes – marijuana is smoked and ingested into the lungs.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Marijuana smoke contains carcinogenic combustion products, including about 50 percent more benzoprene and 75 percent more benzanthracene (and more phenols, vinyl chlorides, nitrosamines, reactive oxygen species) than cigarette smoke. 

Because marijuana smoking involves deeper inhaling and longer retention of smoke in the lungs, it, “results in four times the tar deposits of cigarette smoking. However, well-designed population studies have failed to find an increased risk of lung cancer associated with marijuana use.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on legalizing marijuana in the 2015 federal election.

“Don’t throw away your dealer’s number just yet.” ~Reddit headline

Part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s rationale for legalizing marijuana was to regulate the drug. But will it really prevent dangerous strands from seeping into the market?

A growing problem across North America is a weed-like substance now being circulated among pot users called, K2. There may be more in weed than some smokers bargain for.

Reporting on a mass K2 overdose occurrence in New Haven, Connecticut, the Guardian wrote: “It’s not just in New Haven: mass K2 overdoses are a symptom of a national crisis.

K2 is a cheap synthetic substance called, “Spice.” Plant materials are sprayed with K2 and other harmful substances, some even containing fentanyl. In New Haven Connecticut, 95 people overdosed in a park over two days. And it’s not just a New Haven problem – more than 50 people in Brooklyn, New York, overdosed on K2 in May.

And so even more questions arise:

What impact will readily available marijuana have on overdose rates?

What steps have been taken to prepare hospital emergency rooms, police, and first responders? 

Toronto Mayor John Tory wrote a letter to the Ontario Attorney General outlining his concerns with pot legalization.

Toronto’s mayor John Tory wrote a letter to the Ontario Attorney General saying he has, “significant concerns” about these very questions, and he believes we are rushing too fast into this.

Proven benefits for the very sick among us.

To proponents, legalization is a relief. They say for them it’s a personal choice to consume pot. And many praise the benefits of medical cannabis and marijuana for late stage cancers and other serious ailments.

At 63, George Kaczmarczyk was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in September 2017. Doctors told him he would live only three to six months. But through chemical pharmaceuticals and a gruelling set of cancer treatments he is still alive. But the treatments were affecting George’s sleep. With medically prescribed cannabis oil – not the type that gets a person high – George can finally sleep at night. He says, “I get a great sleep every night; and after months of not sleeping, it’s helping my mind and my body.”

While most opponents distinguish between medical and non-medical usage; they also feel that the legalization of recreational use is like a locomotive hurtling in their direction. 

They wonder:

Why does our culture need another legal addiction to embrace and introduce to children and young adults as just a normal process in a person’s life to help them momentarily leave or suspend their reality?

Police are particularly concerned about the increases of impaired driving when recreational pot is legalized this October. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police will not reach their goal of having 2,000 officers trained to spot drug-impaired drivers by the deadline this Wednesday. They currently have less than half – 880 officers – trained to spot drug impaired drivers.

The federal government just approved funding for a device that tests saliva for cocaine and THC – the main psychoactive agent in pot; but police forces have mixed reactions to the tool, saying they need more research.

What do we know about the impact of pot on household insurance and resale values?

The economic imperative: pot-profit

With the imminent legalization, it’s still not clear:

  • Who makes the money? Government? Big Tobacco? Big Alcohol? Others? What percentage is profit, what is tax?
  • Who ensures quality control?
  • How will it be sold in each province or city?
  • Will supply meet demand? And if not, will that mean a continued illegal market?

Canopy Growth has the largest square footage to grow pot in Canada. (Source: Facebook)

Constellation Brands, which owns drinks like Corona beer, has invested $5 billion into the Canadian cannabis company, Canopy Growth. Big Money is getting involved in marketing, distribution, growth, and sales. Their number one priority will be to make money, and they will be a powerful lobby for this new status quo.

The way ahead… Huxley’s soma?

So, as the roller coaster is nearing the top of the arch, ready to descend, big money and big government are poised to run the show and potentially regulate everything from potency, to chemical levels, and in essence, manipulate marijuana for the masses. There are many prophetic novels depicting tales of government intervention in our lives from artificial intelligence in The Matrix, to Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. But that is another discussion, perhaps a part two after October 17?

In his dystopian novel, Brave New World, Aldous Huxley foresaw an era when government would distribute a drug called, “Soma” to keep the population tranquil. Google describes soma as, “A way to escape pain, discomfort, embarrassment, sadness, or anger, and to enhance joy, arousal, and an overall sense of well-being.” 

We have enough to battle with in this country with the ongoing opioid crisis and mental health issues – and now introducing recreational pot makes many feel as if we’re entering into a whole new world.

In reviewing these unanswered questions – people of Christian faith must wonder if legalizing recreational marijuana makes life so much more complicated. Wouldn’t it be simpler and wiser to teach children to find everlasting peace with themselves – found only in the recognition of a life with God?

Teach them there’s another way other than dousing out the pain in life?

Walk with each other and help each other know that there are ways to go through life’s challenges and pain, and that we all have a legitimate place and meaning in God’s divine plan. Many people of faith believe that humans were created to go through life consciously – not seeing ourselves, or God, through a lens dark and distorted: 1 Corinthians 13:12

At the same time, people of faith must not abandon the people who choose to experiment with marijuana, or those who are tied up in the grips of addiction. We must help lead each other to a life where fulfillment and inner peace comes from the true knowledge of Jesus Christ.

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