Saturday, 2 July 2016

Liberal Marijuana task force roundup

The good - and the mostly negative 

Ottawa announced yesterday they were announcing the members of their task force to legalize Marijuana. From reading the comments around the internet, it seems as most didn’t find this announcement to be substantial. However, within this announcement there does lie some pretty solid information. This article will break down some of the positive points of the task force, but it will more importantly focus on a few areas the task force seems to have made up their mind on, and taken entirely the wrong side on.

Firstly, lets talk about the good. The people who have been picked for the panel seem to be a pretty balanced, and qualified bunch. Here’s a quick sum up of them from reddit user /u/supervillainO_o

  • Dr. Mark A Ware (Vice Chair).
    • Ware, who grew up in Jamaica and is now a Canadian-based world-renowned expert on cannabis use for pain.
  • Dr. Susan Boyd.
    • Susan Boyd teaches courses on drug law and policy, theory and research methodology. Her research interests include drug law and policy, maternal-state conflicts, film and print media representations, women in conflict with the law and research methodology. She is a community activist who works with harm reduction and anti-drug war groups.
  • George Chow. 
    • Vancouver City Councillor
  • Marlene Jesso -
    • superintendent of the RNC, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary
  • Dr. Perry Kendall. -- 
    • As provincal health officer in BC and oversaw "insite" safe injection sites established (wiki)
  • Rafik Souccar.
    • Mr. Souccar was a Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) from 2008 to 2011, an Assistant Commissioner of Federal and International Operations from 2005 to 2008, and Chief Superintendent and Director General of Drugs & Organized Crime from 2002 to 2005. He has been a Director of Canadian Air Transport Security Authority since June 2015. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Law Society of Upper Canada, the International Bar Association and the American Society for Industrial Security
  • Dr. Barbara von Tigerstrom.
    • she worked at the Supreme Court of Canada, the University of Alberta Health Law Institute, and the University of Canterbury School of Law. She holds a PhD in law from the University of Cambridge. Professor von Tigerstrom’s main areas of teaching and research are health law, public health law and policy, food and drug regulation, and tort law.
  • ​Dr. Catherine Zahn.
    • Dr. Zahn was appointed President and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in 2009

This seems like a pretty solid bunch. Lots of legal minds, people who have been in the law enforcement fields, activists for marijuana, as well as academics well versed in various areas of marijuana research. They also have Dr. Barbara von Tigerstorm who has one of the most bad ass names i think i’ve ever heard. This is all good news, but after reading through the governments extensive document of the commissions mandate there appears to still be remnants of hardliners like Bill Blair. 

Blair, former top cop for Toronto has been strongly against Canadians having the right to grow their own marijuana. Blair has been inundated by his long time friends and lobbyists to restrict growing the only big business, creating a virtual monopoly on the product. This would be similar to the stringent regulations formerly on alcohol production that are only now being challenged as the public demands more local, and craft/small brew beers. To reverse this ideology from the get go and create massive corporate bodies controlling marijuana, is anti free market, and reeks of the patronage previous Liberal governments got in trouble over. The reasoning is also flawed, in the areas where marijuana has already been legalized, there has not been a massive expansion in home growing. Growing marijuana at home is hard, time consuming work, and often nets far less than most imagine. Not only this but running the sort of light that produce decent marijuana is a massive investment initially, and increases power bills massively. This is why people don’t really tend to do it very much, after all tobacco has been legal to grow for personal use in Canada for some time. 

There are websites dedicated to growing your own cheap tobacco, but no one really cares. Home brewing hasn’t started a massive rise in dangerous alcohol on the streets, or kitchen still explosions. Producing beer, liquor, wine, tobacco (up to 15kg of dried tobacco per person) part 3 - number 3 section ii), or marijuana at home are all difficult time consuming hobbies, which nicely keeps them from ever expanding to a point where they pose a public risk. Blair being the top man on pot, while having friends who lobby for the biggest corporate growers in the country, is a pretty gross conflict on interest, especially considering the misinformation regarding the dangers. This is why I am glad to see Mr.Blairs omission from this new panel and consider it good news. That being said there still seems to be some hesitance leftover from his time as pot czar, for home growing, which I hope this more educated panel will move past. 

There is another negative to the information the government has so far put forward. As well as being sceptical of home growing, there is serous language implying a dislike for high THC content products, knows generally as concentrates (shatter, wax, oil, honey etc are grouped under the general term “concentrates), and a hesitancy to allow their sale at all. There are a couple of reasons I feel this is in direct contrast to the aim of the commission, which is harm reduction methods. 

Firstly, there is misinformation surrounding high potency marijuana products is not based in reason. There have never been any example of a THC overdose, and limited study to the half-life of active THC (ie that THC that effects decision making etc) so suggestions that higher potency marijuana being consumed is more dangerous are unlikely to prove true. Furthermore the manner, of consumption dictates that smoking large amounts of marijuana concentrates is difficult, and its dangers physically are non existent as a result. The price to produce concentrates also set their price high, making it unlikely consumers will purchase large amounts when compared to herbal marijuana. 

The most important thing missing from the report is any mention of price setting to combat organized crime profits.

Take Uruguay's model, a country that fully legalized marijuana in 2014, set the state controlled price for pot at $1 a gram to ensure it would not be a profitable crop for those in the illicit market, even if it meant slower profits at first for legal growers. I believe Canada should mimic this model and set the price of marijuana low enough that there is little to no incentive for organized crime to produce marijuana in the large scale. This is crucial to keeping the drug out of the hands of youth, one of the main justifications for the move from the liberals. Illegal retailers do not check ID's, but regulated sellers will - taking away the profit takes away the incentive for anyone to produce and supply the black market. Setting the price at half, or less of the current street price of $10 a gram is imperative for minimizing the harm of use to Canadians, and language suggesting this is the plan is entirely missing from this report. 

So there’s my take. We get some positives with the choice of committee members, Chair Anne Maclellan absent from the above list, but her record is well known. Another positive with the exclusion of Bill Blair, even if we get a negative with the remnants of his un-based opinions surrounding home growing. However, we then get into the real negatives in the form of misinformation around marijuana concentrates, and no information around, price setting. 

So all in all a mixed bag, The Liberals have made their second real move in the road to Legalization and although there are some serious negatives, hope is not lost among a few gleams of positive hope. 

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