What we don't know about legalized weed

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By Susan Ponting and Hannah Vanderkooy
            “With marijuana impairment, we’re just now starting to understand what we don’t know.” ~David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute,

There is a familiar theme that keeps arising with the legalization of recreational marijuana, and that’s that, there’s still so much we do not know.

The Canadian Medical Association calls it, “a national uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians.” 

We are told cannabis is no worse than alcohol, but Dr. James Mackillop, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research, points out that, “Being no worse than alcohol is not really a high bar.”

The lengths we’ve been through to deter smoking – through anti-smoking campaigns, government initiatives, and smoking bans – only to arrive at smoking marijuana, is discouraging.

Smoke into the lungs is something the government seems to be encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

Cigarettes are addictive to be sure, but they don’t alter minds the way marijuana or alcohol does. Let’s face it, all are bad for you. And according to Mackillop, alcohol and cannabis are addictive, “The reality is we know that cannabis is addictive. Cannabis use disorder is the technical term. It doesn’t happen to most people who use cannabis, but it does happen to a proportion. About 7% of Canadians over their lifetime will meet criteria for cannabis addiction. And that’s not a small number if you think about the large number of people who use cannabis.”

Health factors aside, what about the logistical questions left unanswered?

With tensions high between the U.S. and Canada after NAFTA, now USMCA, negotiations, how will the two countries that share the longest unprotected international border in the world, now deal with differing laws on cannabis?

Facebook – an American institution – would not approve Context’s ad for our season 8 premiere show, Marijuana Mania, citing “we don’t allow ads that promote illegal or recreational drugs.”

And, despite nine U.S. states and Washington D.C. legalizing recreational cannabis, and another 13 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands decriminalizing weed – Canadians still don’t know what will happen at the border if they use marijuana, with reports saying Canadian pot smokers could be denied entry at the border. 

Driving on our highways and roads is a major concern, too. To think of all the work MADD has done over the years to stop alcohol-related driving deaths, and now more public education must be put in place to discourage drug-impaired driving.

The Toronto Sun reported that a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the U.S. found in a study that, “traffic accidents are rising in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. That followed stark warnings from the National Transportation Safety Board, which on Tuesday issued several recommendations to combat drug-impaired driving.” A portion of the report reads, “The last thing in the world that we want is to introduce another legal substance where we may be adding to that toll and to the carnage on our highways,” said David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute, “with marijuana impairment, we’re just now starting to understand what we don’t know.”

To be sure, marijuana has always been around, and will always be, but government regulations, opinions, and public discourse do set the tone for culture, and acceptance of things such as this.   

Watch the full episode on marijuana mania:

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