CFP Cannabis: Global Histories

19-20 April 2018
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

In cooperation with Wellcome Trust

The Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare would like to invite papers for Cannabis: Global Histories at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow) on 19-20 April 2018.

One outcome of the recent Alcohol and Drugs History Society meeting (ADHS) in Utrecht was enthusiasm for a ‘histories of cannabis’ workshop/conference to gather together the increasing number of scholars researching the topic.

Paper proposals should be based on unpublished research and should include a 300-word abstract, including a brief CV (2 page maximum). The deadline is 1 September 2017. Participants would then be asked to submit papers of c.7000-8000 words by 15 January 2018. This will enable pre-circulation of papers and also early work on editing a collection of papers for publication.

The geographical location and timeframe are open, while topics may include but are not limited to:

policy and legislation
health outcomes
trafficking and terrorism
comparative approaches
myths
science and evidence
the rise of big cannabis
art and culture

Large Indoor Marijuana Commercial Growing Operation With Fans, Greenhouse, Equipment For Growing High Quality Herb. Cannabis Field Growing For Legal Recreational Use in Washington State

 

Deadline for Proposals: 1 September 2017
Deadline for Papers: 15 January 2018

Please send your submissions or queries to :
Caroline Marley: cshhhadmin@strath.ac.uk or
Lucas Richert: Lucas.Richert@strath.ac.uk

Dried Buds

LSD: Insight or Insanity?, 1968

From the NIH. A post by Professor Erika Dyck on the history of LSD.

Circulating Now from NLM

Circulating Now welcomes guest blogger Erika Dyck, PhD, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the History of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Today, Dr. Dyck shares some insights on a recently digitized film in the Library’s collection highlighted in our Medical Movies on the Web project.

For Rebels, it’s a Kick…

It’s the late 1960s. Teenagers, a hip voice clues us in, are always looking for kicks, and today’s teens express themselves with cool fashions, groovy hairstyles, and kooky pranks. Not so long ago, our narrator played the character of “Plato,” a troubled teenager, in the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause. In that film, Plato idolizes the reckless machismo of young Jim Stark (played by James Dean). In an epic display of bravado, Jim and another boy play a game of “chickie run” in which they drive their cars in parallel directly toward a cliff. Jim leaps…

View original post 623 more words

THE FUTURE OF UK MEDICAL MARIJUANA REMAINS BLURRY

BUT THERE ARE LESSONS TO TAKE AWAY FROM CANADA

From 2014–2016, Canadian health authorities were forced to address the issue of medical marijuana, even as activist groups and industry sought to influence the decision-making process and its place in the medical marketplace. First, the system was privatized, then issues of use and access, not to mention the full-on legalization of recreational marijuana, dominated headlines.

In light of last week’s shocking medical marijuana report, the policy debate will certainly grow more heated here in the UK. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform stated there is “good evidence” cannabis can help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Prof Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”

In a recently co-edited series on Canadian cannabis called Waiting to Inhale, it became clear that medical marijuana was a supremely complex policy issue. Some of the questions included, but were not limited to, the tenuous balance between consumers and regulators, Canadian physicians as unwanted gatekeepers, marijuana as a measure (and potential leveller) of inequities, and the major struggles between Big Cannabis and craft cannabis.

Looking ahead, the UK can learn lessons from other countries, including Canada.

Background: Canadian medical cannabis

Medical marijuana has been available in Canada since 2001, after the Canadian Court of Appeal declared that sufferers from epilepsy, AIDS, cancer and other ailments had a constitutional right to light up. Prohibition of this “medicine” was, in short, unconstitutional.

The original regulation that allowed patients to access medical marijuana in Canada was enacted in 2001 and called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). It allowed patients to possess dried marijuana flower/bud with a license issued by the government, provided that the application was signed off by a physician.

One strain of medicine was available for purchase from one single government supplier, Prairie Plant Systems, but optional licenses were available for patients to grow their own plants or to designate a grower to supply medicine to them.

The MMAR was repealed and replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), enacted on Apr. 1, 2014. With this, medical marijuana was officially opened for business. And the new rules generated a craze as dozens of new entrants jumped into the marketplace.

As of Aug. 24, 2016 the MMPR was replaced with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR). These new regulations included legislation that satisfied the latest Supreme Court decision to allow patients who possess a prescription from a doctor to grow their own medicine.

During this period, certain problems have hindered the medical marijuana industry’s growth in Canada, and Britain could learn from these.

Dispensaries vs. Big Cannabis

These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.

The pushback against dispensaries has come from national and local law enforcement as well as the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association. Yet, the Cannabis Growers of Canada, a trade association representing “unlicensed” growers and dispensaries, have fought to be included at the table. Along with several other organizations, the CGC has lobbied the government to be included in the new legal regime.

As the New York Times put it, “a lobbying battle is raging between the new entrepreneurs and the licensed medical marijuana producers, who were the only ones allowed to grow and provide the plant under the old regulations. One side complains about being shut out by a politically connected cartel, while the other complains about unfair and damaging competition from those who are breaking the law.”

Physicians

Medical marijuana has not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.

As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.

Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.

The result is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to, being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.

Workplace Safety and Performance

With more relaxed rules around medical marijuana (along with federal legislation looking to legalize cannabis),employers are wondering whether this will grow as an issue when it comes to pre-employment or on-the-job testing.

Aside from certain industries, such as transportation, most provinces don’t have clear policies or precedents for dealing with medical marijuana.

Besides that, workplace screening of marijuana is a mediocre indicator of performance in the workplace as it doesn’t actually test for impairment. Rather, it tests for by-products excreted from the body after the drug’s been ingested.

Looking ahead, human resource departments will be forced to develop a raft of new policies.

Veterans

The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, this is twice the amount Health Canada considers safe.

An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance and has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.

Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as the number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.

Vaping

The intersection of vaping and medical marijuana has also caused tension. As vaping has moved from a niche presence to mainstream practice, its unregulated nature – at the federal level – poses problems to policy-makers.

For example, the Ontario government exempted medical marijuana users in mid-November from a law that bans the use of e-cigarettes anywhere regular cigarettes are prohibited. These regulations were set to come into effect Jan. 1. This exemption meant medical marijuana users could vape in restaurants, at work or on playgrounds. However, Ontario’s associate health minister Dipika Damerla stated that the government would remove the exemption.

Local governments in various cities recently voted to implement a vaping bans in public spaces, with only a vape shop exemption predicated on “safety” concerns, specifically for the uninitiated e-cigarette user who doesn’t know how to install batteries in the device. But it was also predicated on the notion that buyers should be able to see what they’re getting, which is the same argument made by authorized medical cannabis users about the value of a local pot dispensary.

The Future

Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious.

Policy makers from government, industry leaders, and physicians will face considerable question marks. Cutting through all the haze won’t be an easy task, yet all participants, including the public, would be wise to use recent examples from Canada to light the way.

 

Vape Fear – Updated

November 25, 2016 – CBC NEWS

Vaping, e-cigarettes to be regulated by Health Canada

The federal government plans to regulate e-cigarettes to make vaping products less accessible to young people.

“The proposed act amends the Tobacco Act to regulate vaping products as a separate class of products,” Health Canada said in a statement on Tuesday November, 22.

The aim is to protect young people and non-users from nicotine addiction while allowing adults access to e-cigarettes.

“We know that there is some evidence to suggest that the use of vaping products can be used as a harm-reduction tool for people who are current smokers,” Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters in the Commons.

“But at same time, they have [been] shown to be an enticement for young people to take up smoking and become addicted to nicotine.”

The government aims to regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of e-cigarettes and vaping products.

A key part of the legislation introduced in the Senate is to regulate health claims, such as that a vaping product will help smokers quit.

The legislation would cover vaping products with and without nicotine.

Other measures in the proposed legislation include:

  • A ban on the sale and promotion of all vaping products to those under age 18.
  • Prohibiting the promotion of flavours that appeal to youth, such as candy flavours.
  • Creating regulatory authority to display health warnings on vaping devices.

*****

Here’s my original article.

In Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear, Robert De Niro plays sociopathic Max Cady, who has recently been released from prison. Years earlier, his attorney, Sam Bowden portrayed by Nick Nolte, deliberately withheld evidence during a criminal trial which would have seen Cady acquitted.

This of course enraged Cady and fueled a desire for revenge. As punishment, he stalked and brutalized the Bowden family. Yet, being a true believer, he also felt that by carrying out his terrible deeds he was helping Bowden achieve a type of moral and spiritual redemption. In short, he felt his actions were serving Bowden’s interests.

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In 2016, consumers, politicians, and health officials are going through Vape Fear. Due to lack of evidence, we are being tested by a product in the marketplace with a potential to improve health outcomes and cause other, if unknown, health problems.

It’s a dual-purpose product, in that it has recreational and medical applications. And in the public arena, opponents and supporters of e-cigarette regulations have contested the best approach to it.

Supporters of stiff regulation declare that children and young people need to be shielded from products that imitate smoking and might encourage nicotine addiction. (Think Mrs. Lovejoy in the Simpsons.) They favour regulation that might guarantee product safety and quality. These individuals also usually advocate on behalf of a precautionary approach – at least until there is sufficient evidence that e-cigarettes don’t undermine recent successes at controlling tobacco.

Opponents of stiff regulation, by contrast, argue that vaping is significantly less harmful than conventional cigarettes and beneficial in helping smokers to quit. They want minimal restrictions on availability and often absolute freedom for advertising, promotion and the use of e-cigarettes in public. (Think Charlton Heston and guns being pried from his cold dead hands.) Restrictions, this camp argues, might put off smokers from swapping to safer alternatives and limit the opportunity of curbing tobacco consumption. Here harm reduction trumps all other suits.

Now, against this messy backdrop, governments have taken action.

New EU regulations in May imposed standardised quality control on liquids and vaporisers across the union. They also required disclosure of ingredients in vaping liquids and child-proofing and tamper-proofing for liquid packaging.  And the NHS has backed e-cigarettes as a quitting aid.

In March, the Scottish government’s Health Bill banned under-18s from both buying the devices and limiting their advertising, which followed Health Scotland’s position paper in March 2015 that “NHS Boards must balance the benefits of e-cigarettes use to smokers with any potential concerns about impact on non-smokers.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has also taken broad steps to crack down for the first time on e-cigarettes, which have been growing in popularity among teens and is projected to be a 4 billion dollar industry this year.

The Food and Drug Administration’s move in May brought regulation of e-cigarettes in line with existing rules for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. This had been highly anticipated after the FDA issued a proposed rule two years ago on how to supervise the e-cigarette industry.

“Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year, a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell stated during the announcement of the new rules. She asserted too that health officials still don’t have the scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, as the industry asserts, and avoid the known ills of tobacco.

In all of this, though, a Vape Fear persisted.

Similarly, heart experts recently found that vaping damages key blood vessels in the heart in a similar way to normal cigarettes, and it’s “far more dangerous than people realize.” University College London heart expert Professor Robert West noted, “It would certainly be fair to say the study shows electronic cigarettes are not without any risk.”

Researchers at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Rome thus decided to call the NHS decision to support e-cigarettes “premature.”

Added to all this is the idea of vaping garage labs, a part of e-cigarette mythology that’s difficult to shake. While no one has been publicly exposed for mixing juice in an actual garage, many in the industry have confessed privately that some set-ups that are only marginally better. It was and remains the nascent industry’s dirty little secret.

In my home country of Canada, Vape Fear is certainly present. According to the CBC’s celebrity doctor Brian Goldman, “my sense is that key thought leaders in Canada are alarmist about e-cigarettes.” They “ignore evidence,” “cling to the notion that nicotine addiction, as opposed to combusted tobacco products, is the paramount health problem,” and “overestimate concerns that e-cigarettes act as a gateway to regular tobacco use.”

For Goldman, it’s well past time that his colleagues “look up the facts” and stop “dissing a smoke cessation tool with a lot of potential.” It can serve the interests of public health. Jesse Kline for the National Post has likewise told Canadians, “Don’t believe the fear campaign — e-cigarettes can save millions of lives.”

In Cape Fear, Sam Bowden’s teenage daughter – played by Juliette Lewis – was tormented and assaulted by De Niro’s Max Cady, but she manages to survive. She tells the audience that her holiday in North Carolina had been so peaceful beforehand, “when the only thing to fear on those enchanted summer nights was that the magic would end and real life would come crashing in.”

With vaping, we know this won’t occur until all multitudinous studies have been completed. And regulators and health authorities reach consensus.

Until that point, the regulation and use of e-cigarettes in Canada, the United States, and Scotland will continue to spark serious challenges and health concerns.

Without reliable data and hard evidence, and in a state of affairs where no one has a claim to the unassailable truth, regulations that curtail access and promotion to young people appears to be the surest policy in overcoming Vape Fear.

Weed in the Workplace

The newest issue of Canadian HR Reporter discusses ‘weed in the workplace’ and focuses on drug screening. There are some vital ideas here about on-the-job safety, the legalities of drug testing, and impairment. Basically – drugs during ‘9 to 5.’ Also, I get my two cents in there! Check it out at Increasing use of marijuana could cause problems on the job

 

Clarify Pot Policy for Veterans

Today I wrote a short viewpoint for the Star Phoenix. The article is on medical cannabis for Canadian veterans.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson has raised important questions about the increasing use of medical marijuana by Canadian military veterans.

As authorities contemplate enforcement actions and zoning bylaws relevant to marijuana dispensaries, and the federal Liberal government prepares for legalization in 2017, Ferguson is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the amount of medical cannabis being prescribed to veterans. He found the quantity prescribed was “poorly documented” and not always evidence-based.

Ferguson focused more broadly on how Veterans Affairs has been managing drug benefits for former servicemen and women, some of whom have complicated health issues and suffer from mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The AG made it plain that it’s time to cut through the haze and clarify marijuana policy for veterans.

The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, for Health Canada this is twice the amount it considers safe. An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance. It has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.

Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.

According to figures provided by Veterans Affairs, 112 veterans were reimbursed for medical marijuana in 2013-14, The following year, it was 628. By March 2016 that number has risen to 1,320.

Mike Blais, president and founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, has been abundantly clear about veterans’ consumption of medical marijuana: “I think there should be no cap, and that every case should be judged on individual merit and that the doctor’s prescription is paramount.”

At the same time, Canadian Forces have taken an alternative stand. In 2014, H.C. MacKay who was then the deputy surgeon general of the Canadian Forces, made clear that “with respect to marijuana use for medical purposes, we have identified what appears to be a very significant policy divergence between Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Armed Forces.”

In short, even though Veterans Affairs was funding medical marijuana, the military’s health service did not recognize it for medical use. With respect to PTSD, the Canadian Forces have also suggested there is insufficient evidence to authorize marijuana use and could even be detrimental to veterans’ health.

Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious. However, the auditor general report reaffirms how it and the policies surrounding the medical treatments for Canadian veterans require significant clarification.

Lucas Richert teaches the history of pharmaceutical and recreational drugs at the University of Saskatchewan.

Below the CBC covers the story.

Rebranding: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Coffee

For millions of Canadians, there is no icon in business more collectively beloved than Tim Hortons. “Tim’s” – as the franchise is affectionately called – long ago transcended the humble domain of doughnuts and coffee. Instead, it is now a part of the Canadian national identity – one of those rare brands by which individuals and societies categorize themselves.

Forget beer. Tim Hortons coffee is Canada’s drug of choice.

beer

And it is a fascinating historical and political development that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party cleverly latched onto this when pitching itself to the masses. The Tories held photo-ops inside Tim Hortons outlets across Canada and made sure to be photographed delivering Tim Hortons goodies around various communities.

In 2009, one researcher felt that the Tim Hortons X factor was essential enough to warrant asking voters which party leader was more likely to buy their coffee at Tim’s. No surprises here, the Conservatives edged the Liberals in this category. Canadians had, in short, developed a culture of conservative coffee.

With the recent election of Justin Trudeau and a new Liberal government (which promised hope and change), the time is right to take a step back and assess the relationship between Tim Hortons and politics.

trudeau-family-halloween-20151031
Trudeau family at Halloween. May the 4th be with you.

* * * * *

Tim Hortons opened its first location in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario. It was co-founded by NHL player, Tim Horton, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, among other teams. In succeeding decades, thousands more popped up across the country, making it more successful in Canada than McDonald’s. Sure, the arrival of the coffee chain in a small town sometimes meant the end of local ‘mom-and-pop’ shops, but its presence produced more excitement than resentment. Getting a Tim Hortons was a sign that a community – however small – had made it.

tim horton
Tim handles the puck

Over the course of 50 years, Tim Hortons caught and surpassed the big-name American burger chains to become the undisputed champion of Canada’s “quick service restaurant” market.

By 2004, the term “double-double” entered the Oxford dictionary of Canadian English, signifying recognition of its importance to everyday speech. Ordering a drink of this kind represented, at least for some commentators and scholars, more than just habit. It was and remains an act of solidarity within the national body politic. According to the Globe and Mail, one estimate suggests Tim’s sells nearly eight in 10 cups of coffee sold in Canada.

double doublealways fresh

Most pharmaceutical companies would kill for that kind of market share.

This road to dominance was chronicled in Ron Joyce’s Always Fresh, an insider’s account of Tim Horton and the business named after him.  At times, it is a devastatingly blunt account of the chaotic and complicated personal story behind one of Canada’s most successful businesses.

joyce

Ron Joyce, one of the co-founders of the franchise, chronicles the drugs, the infidelity, an epic court battle, and one spectacular, fatal car crash – that of Tim Horton himself, which was booze-fuelled and largely overlooked until recently.  Joyce, in short, takes his readers behind the counter, into the kitchen, and demonstrates the inner-workings of the company.

The tone of tenor of the book are inherently and recognizably free-market. It is a Horatio Alger, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, local-boy-makes-good narrative. First, Joyce settled in Hamilton and worked menial jobs in factories, scraping together enough to get by. Later, he joined law enforcement and increased his measly pay by taking on a variety of odd jobs, including: a produce truck driver, construction worker, and then Brinks guard. Finally, he simply fell into the restaurant business in his mid-thirties and then, through sheer hard work and force of will, he went on to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.

We have all been exposed to this upwardly mobile narrative before, and it surely one that resonates with free-market advocates and, more generally, economic conservatives. Yet, Joyce’s story is intriguing because it showcases how success can tear at the fabric of friendship and family. According to Maclean’s, “It’s as much about jealousy, greed and betrayal as it is about cash flow and marketing.”

According to Douglas Hunter, politicians, especially the Conservative Party, saw tremendous value in the legend of Tim Hortons and seized on the idea that the company, as well as the hockey player founder, was representative of the average Canadian.

When Condoleezza Rice visited Canada in 2006, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was photographed taking her to Tim’s. Newspapers referred to this as “double-double diplomacy,” even though she chose to have her coffee black with one sweetener, rather than two creams and two sugars.

Prime Minister Harper also used the Tim Hortons logo as a political stage, including a 2009 speech that welcomed the company back to Canada after it relocated its corporate headquarters from the U.S. To make this political statement, Harper declined an invitation to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, much to the chagrin of the national press.

Harper explicitly referenced how the company was an “essential Canadian story,” which included “success and tragedy,” as well as “big dreams in small towns,” “old fashioned values and tough-fisted business,” “hard work and hockey.” To use David Farber’s phrase, this muscular nationalism, an unshakable patriotism that was popularized by Harper.

Similarly, as Canada prepared to go to war in Afghanistan, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, contended that troops should have a Tim Hortons at Kandahar Airfield. It would cost the public at least $4 million, but access to Canada’s drug of choice was a boon to morale. “There’s nothing more Canadian than sipping a double-double in Kandahar airfield while you’re watching a hockey game,” noted Gen. Hillier.

According to Hillier’s Afghanistan commander, Brigadier-General David Fraser, when asked what he thought about the idea: “Tim Hortons better get its ass over here, as far as I’m concerned.”

* * * *

The identity crisis Canadians have suffered since Confederation in 1867 has helped Tim Hortons achieve its emblematic status. It doesn’t help that Canadians are so close to the United States and struggle with what makes us distinct.

Essentially, this means we have been desperate to clasp on to everything that helps delineate and comfort us, particularly in a post-1980s globalized world in which national culture has become so tangled with acts of consumption.

Tim Hortons has seized on that and the Conservative Party seized on that, too. “The worst thing a company can do is tell you straight up ‘We are important to your identity,’” says Douglas Hunter. Instead, the politicians made that point. Tim’s was used as a prop and a backdrop. And the coffee formed part of a political strategy, which has helped reinforce the iron grip of a gentle brand.

And while Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, promised hope and change on the campaign trail he made sure to stop in to Tim’s for a cup of coffee. Some drugs, it seems, are hard to kick.

Tories, Turmoil, and Marijuana Legalization

THE CBC reported yesterday that there is tremendous turmoil within the Conservative Party over the legalization of marijuana. Without Stephen Harper, the issue has created controversy. The story below is by Stephen Dyer.

stephen-harper-on-marijuana-oct-2015

*

As candidates for the Conservative Party’s leadership race continue to line up, an issue has emerged that many thought the Tories had put to bed a long time ago — the legalization of marijuana.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper called marijuana “infinitely worse” than tobacco. “If we sell marijuana in stores like alcohol and tobacco, that will protect our kids? No one believes that,” he said.

But last week Maxime Bernier injected a slightly unexpected element into the race when he suggested he was leaning toward supporting a Liberal motion to legalize possession of marijuana for recreational use, as has already happened in four U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

“I think it must be time to have a discussion with that,” he told Rosemary Barton, host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. “I am happy that this government will bring a bill.”

“I am more for it” than against it, he said. “It depends how the government will do it. At the end I will decide whether I will vote for it or against it. But I am more toward — for — that.”

That position sets Bernier at odds with his party’s long-held opposition to loosening the laws against recreational use of marijuana.

Law unpopular with Tory voters

According to Vote Compass, CBC’s voter-engagement survey, about 37 per cent of Conservative voters in the last election said they supported the full legalization of marijuana.

Another 38 per cent of Conservatives supported the NDP’s position of decriminalization of marijuana — a step short of legalization that would treat pot possession similar to a traffic offence.

Only a quarter of Conservative voters agreed with Harper’s position that marijuana possession should remain a criminal offence —  a number that drops to 14 per cent across all voters.

These numbers suggest there is an audience within the Conservative Party for a more libertarian viewpoint — like the one Bernier is pitching.

On the other side of the debate is Bernier’s only other declared rival, former minister of labour Dr. Kellie Leitch. She is one of the few Conservatives who have continued to thunder against the impending legalization of marijuana since the party’s electoral defeat in October 2015.

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“Health Canada spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to encourage Canadians to stop smoking. Now the government wants Canadian kids to have access to a drug to smoke, marijuana,” she told the House of Commons in February. “Parents are scared and concerned for their children. The government is sending out mixed signals.”

Indeed, the Liberals have been criticized by advocates of marijuana reform for maintaining the current criminal penalties while they take their time drafting a legalization plan, rather than moving immediately to decriminalize as an interim measure.

Not clear where leader stands

Also sending out mixed signals is interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.

As Harper’s health minister, Ambrose often found herself fronting the party’s anti-legalization approach, including the “reefer madness” strategy of linking marijuana use to mental illness.

So an interview she gave in January to Vancouver radio station CKNW caused considerable confusion about her position.

“The bottom line is there’s a huge faction of people in this country that want — that are mostly adults, to be frank — that want access to pot and they want it legalized and it’s for recreational purposes.”

Ambrose then said she hoped the Liberals would push ahead faster to regulate storefront pot dispensaries that have sprung up around Vancouver.

“I hope the faster they move on this the better, because the proliferation of pot dispensaries is quite large, so it has moved now not just in Vancouver but across the country, and they’re unregulated. So the sooner they can move on that, the better to protect kids.”

Conservatives later explained that Ambrose was merely recognizing the inevitability of legalization, and encouraging the Liberals to get on with it. But government supporters jumped on what they saw as another Conservative post-election reversal.

“Health minister who spent millions of your $ on misleading ads against pot wants us to legalize faster,” tweeted Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts.

Will the vote be whipped?

It remains to be seen whether marijuana will become an issue in the Tory leadership race, or if members who dissent from the official party line will be able to express those views in Parliament.

Asked whether the party intends to allow a free vote when marijuana reform finally comes before the House, Ambrose’s director of communications Mike Storeshaw told CBC News no decision has been taken.

“Decisions on caucus positions for legislation aren’t made until there’s actually legislation to consider, and we don’t appear to be anywhere near that point yet.”

Weed vs Alcohol

The city of Prince Albert, in northern Saskatchewan, has just released a report that tackles the staggeringly high rate of alcohol use/abuse among P.A’s residents. One of the recommendations to combat the alcohol is the legalization of marijuana. In a StarPhoenix report, Charles Hamilton discusses pot and alcohol policy in both big and small communities. It is called “Pot may curb alcohol abuse in P.A., report indicates.”

Hamilton’s full article can be found here, but here’s the beginning – and I weigh in, too.

Some Prince Albert city councillors are balking at a suggestion that legalized pot could help reduce binge drinking in the city.

The city released it’s “alcohol strategy” this week, a culmination of years of work to document and offer ways to combat problems with underage and binge drinking.

However, some are taken aback by the report’s suggestion that legalized pot could help curb chronic alcohol abuse.

“I personally have concerns,” Coun. Rick Orr said. “I think it’s another one of the items that we have to deal with from a community addictions point of view.”

Other suggestions in the report include eliminating the city’s drive-thru liquor stores, cutting back the business hours of establishments where liquor is sold, and having more cultural training and education among young people about the dangers of drinking.

Waiting to Inhale – a Web Series Exploring Cannabis

On Tuesday, ActiveHistory.ca began running a series of articles on marijuana. I’m editing these articles, along with Prof. Erika Dyck. Check out the latest article!

HERE IS A LINK TO ALL OF THE ENTRIES.