Cannabis ‘Policy Brief’ Announcement

It’s my pleasure to promote the publication of an important Policy Brief on Cannabis by Kathleen Thompson. Over the past few years she has helped drive conversations about the consumption and control of marijuana. Her recent Policy Brief ought to be read by anyone and everyone! Here’s an extract.

LEGALIZATION OF CANNABIS: THE POLICY CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

By Kathleen Thompson, PhD, MSW, RSW, BA (Hons)

“The commitment by the Government of Canada to legalize cannabis
and cannabis products presents a complex range of socio-economic
challenges and opportunities. Creating the right legal and regulatory
framework to address the implications, both good and bad, will be
key in determining whether legalization is deemed successful public
policy.
The federal government plans to introduce cannabis legislation in the
coming spring session of Parliament. The legislation will be based on
the recommendations contained in a report issued on November 30 by
a Task Force of experts who studied the issue for the past year. The Task
Force received input from more than 30,000 Canadians, organizations
and professionals. Entitled “A Framework for the Legalization and
Regulation of Cannabis in Canada”, the report recommends allowing
more flexibility in the current federally controlled cannabis cultivation
model. Specifically, the federal government would regulate a safe and
responsible supply chain of cannabis.”

The full document, which has been sent to law enforcement and government officials across Canada, can be read on the Johnson-Shoyama website or downloaded here thompson-policy

**

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
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

**

ABOUT KATHLEEN THOMPSON

Dr. Thompson has worked in health policy analysis and research as a bureaucrat and as a consultant for the last 25 years, specializing in the mental health, disability and corrections sectors.

In 2015, Dr. Thompson created the Cannabis Regulatory Research Group. The focus of the policy research group is on promoting collaborative public policy processes and evidenced-based research with the cannabis industry, governments, academia, civil society and at the United Nations. Additionally, Dr. Thompson consults with individuals and organizations on how to enter the legal cannabis industry.

 

 

Advertisements

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

 

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.

cartoon

“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.”

In the Weeds: Understanding Government Action and Canada’s Marijuana Industry

What is happening with Canadian marijuana policy? We seem to be stuck in the weeds. And there’s a fog of confusion. According to Jim Bronskill, there are the 9 major factors that have driven the Canadian government’s “federal marijuana moves” over the past few months. The key source for him was a November 2015 ministerial briefing presentation, which was called “Legalizing & Regulating Marijuana.”

Interesting, this story made it onto both CTV and Global News, although CBC did not run with it immediately.

9 MAIN SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND ECONOMIC DRIVERS:

Canadian marijuana usage rates 11 per cent of the population age 15 and older used marijuana in the past year, according to a 2013 survey. Use was highest among 20-24 year-olds at 26 per cent. The presentation characterizes this as “relatively low overall rates of usage” and points to evidence that use declines with age.

Evidence of health benefits and risks There is some evidence of limited therapeutic benefit to marijuana use for managing symptoms of chemotherapy, neuropathic pain and treatment-resistant epilepsy in children. But the health-community consensus is that regular recreational usage carries risks, including long-term cognitive ones for those under 25.

International legal framework — Canada is party to a global legal framework on psychotropic drugs, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It does not allow for legalization but allows leeway on the kinds of sanctions imposed. The International Narcotics Control Board expressed regret over Uruguay’s decision to legalize marijuana, but it is not clear what practical impact this has had, Health Canada notes. A UN special session on the World Drug Problem is slated for next month.

Canadian regime for medical marijuana — The 2013 Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations attempted to shift the medical marijuana industry to licensed producers, away from home growers. But thousands of Canadians were allowed to possess or grow marijuana pending a court ruling that came down last month.

Domestic legal context — The court ruling handed down in February affirmed the right of people to grow their own medical marijuana. The presentation, drafted before the ruling, says the decision and others from the courts could affect government choices on the new legal regime.

Role of provincial and territorial governments — The federal and provincial / territorial governments would be able to regulate in many of the same areas concerning access to legal marijuana. The federal government could set minimum standards, but provinces and territories might enact more stringent requirements on where pot is consumed, retail sale locations or minimum age for purchase. Achieving a national approach will require close co-operation.

Experience of other jurisdictions — While Uruguay adopted tight government control, Colorado and Washington states chose models that spurred involvement of commercial interests, increasing risks to health and safety. Early lessons from the U.S. reinforce the need to take time to implement a legalized model, figuring out the complexities of how best to protect public health.

Law enforcement issues — Organized crime groups are heavily involved in the marijuana trade. Illicit grow operations exist in all parts of Canada. Police-reported drug-impaired driving incidents are a small fraction of actual drug-impaired driving incidents, as it is difficult to recognize the signs. Given all this, a national approach will require police agencies to work together.

Youth justice — The Youth Criminal Justice Act requires police to consider use of measures such as warnings and referrals to community programs for those ages 12 through 17. Careful consideration will need to be given to how the new regime will be enforced when it comes to young people.

For more, check this out.

More Meth? Crystal Meth Business on the Rise in SK

According to the CBC, one of the noticeable trends in Regina crime last year was the rise of methamphetamine, often called crystal meth.

According to the Regina Police Service, there were 708 grams of meth seized last year, up from 308 grams in 2014. The number of meth seizures has also spiked, from 81 in 2014 to 133 in 2015.

“There’s more meth in the city,” police Chief Troy Hagen told reporters recently. “I think that we can say that with total certainty.”

The full story is here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/crystal-meth-seizures-on-rise-in-regina-1.3469643

This is an ongoing saga. Take a look back at “Swinging at the Shadows,” from the Globe and Mail in 2004. This Regina-based account partially focuses on Mr. Lund, who pleaded guilty to what proved to be Regina’s first case of crystal meth drug trafficking, as well as to charges of weapons offences and using counterfeit currency. His story embodies the rise of the meth business.

But what does it mean?

**

Although crystal meth can be smoked, it can also be injected, which has the potential to make the HIV situation in the province even worse. Crystal meth can also negatively affect the immune system and this can then accelerate the progression of HIV.

In other words, the meth business is contributing to the “third world” rates of HIV infection in Saskatchewan, or what Maclean’s magazine calls our HIV epidemic.

Here’s a small section of the the Maclean’s piece that illustrates the importance of class and ethnicity:

‘The infection rate for Saskatchewan’s non-Aboriginal population is below the national average. Yet, while First Nations and Metis account for about 16 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population, they represented about 80 per cent of all new cases of HIV diagnosed in 2011, Wong told a workshop attended by a few hundred of the 6,000 delegates here. “The incidence rate in our Aboriginal population is about 88 per 100,000 [population], which is 14 times the national average, on par with various African countries.”’

 

Mixed reviews for the Allard marijuana decision

Cannabis. Pot. Marijuana. Ganga. Weed. Grass. These are interesting times for sure.

I was interviewed for the Saskatoon local news on the recent Allard decision. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly happy with this interview, but it can be viewed here.

http://globalnews.ca/video/2541487/mixed-reviews-for-federal-court-marijuana-decision

Finally:

I would like to be upfront about something. The Global story used the word “Professor” to describe me, which is something I most certainly DID NOT call myself. I referred to myself as an instructor in history and a sessional lecturer in history.

Many people casually use the word PROFESSOR to describe all those individuals who offer classes within a university setting. There is, however, a scale and hierarchy of individuals who work in an academic department. A full PROFESSOR is highest level that can be reached.

uk_v_us_academicranks1

And that is not at all me. It is regrettable that I was designated in this way. Just wanted to clarify.

Legal pot won’t affect workplace drug testing, expert says

In today’s Star Phoenix, Alex MacPherson reports on mandatory drug testing in the workplace.

It’s a thoughtful piece and useful for the business community.

Drug-test-Results-Report

The legalization of marijuana will raise numerous issues in the business community, in labour law, and among unions and union members, including pre-employment and random drug testing.  We can see just how complex this will be when we take a look at the United States.

In June of last year, Colorado’s Supreme Court found it legal for a given company to fire an employee who has legally smoked marijuana. But here’s the thing: this shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that employers in every state will have the right to fire employees who use marijuana under the protection of state laws. The reason is that Colorado has its own specific set of labour laws and marijuana laws that led to the court’s finding. 

Basically, different states have different laws when it comes to the consequences for employees who test positive for drugs. Take Maine: the law there prohibits companies from firing employees the first time they test positive, and requires them to offer an opportunity to enter rehab.

Read MacPherson’s article.

drug-testing

Dallas Buyers Club and Saskatoon Marijuana

I just penned a short piece on Dallas Buyers Club and the current debates about medical marijuana in Saskatoon, SK for the Star Phoenix.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

With the federal election fast approaching, the Harper government’s move to enlarge Canada’s marijuana industry, and the RCMP’s potential actions against dispensaries here in Saskatoon, a lot is happening!

 

The piece begins this way:

In the award-winning 2013 movie, Dallas Buyers Club, we are exposed to heroic patient activism during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Based on the true story of AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, a hard-partying Texas tradesman, the film shows a strikingly thin Matthew McConaughey battle his sickness and the legal authorities in Texas.

images

Woodroof, who’s unhappy with his illegally purchased AIDS medicine, and on the edge of death, seeks out alternative and experimental drugs from a doctor in Mexico. Then Ron, being the savvy entrepreneur that he is, quickly establishes a club (a dispensary) to sell his unregulated, sometimes dangerous, imported medicines. In doing so, he operates outside the law and is forced to confront the existing power structure of drug regulation. At one point in the film, Ron storms a town hall meeting of citizens, drug company leaders, and regulators and starts finger-pointing. “People are dying. And y’all up there are afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you.”

Saskatoon’s current struggle with illegal marijuana dispensaries has many parallels.

Mark Hauk, who operates Saskatoon’s first medical marijuana dispensary, is one of 13 pot club owners across Canada who has recently received a notice from Health Canada warning of possible RCMP raids.

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.Dallas-Buyers-Club-poster-2013-movie-poster-HD

While this system was certainly upgraded through the Harper government’s Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation, there are still areas for improvement.

According to Neil Boyd at Simon Fraser, “…it is really quite bizarre that they’re using a mail-order system for marijuana as medicine; that’s not the way medicine is usually dispensed. Medicine is usually dispensed through a visit to a physician and through a pharmacy.”

The entire opinion-editorial, which is called “Pot problems have a familiar ring,” can be found here.

The Canadian Election and Sask Marijuana

The federal election is going to have a profound impact on Saskatchewan’s marijuana industry. So writes D.C. Fraser in a new article for the Regina Leader-Post.

I told Fraser during an interview for the story that “Depending on what the winner suggests about medical marijuana legislation, (it will have) a direct impact on the economy, and on this sector of the economy…”

In many ways, SK has the potential for tremendous growth in the realm of medical marijuana and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what happens in the next few years.

A link to the full Leader-Post article is here.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Cannabis Conundrum in Canada

I recently wrote on Canada’s changing medical marijuana laws for Alternet.org and a number of other sources. See below:

On June 11, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians with a valid prescription could take medical marijuana in other forms besides just a dried form.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

In short, the Supreme Court enlarged the definition of medical marijuana, meaning restrictions on extracts and derivatives are now gone and brownies, cookies, shakes are no longer illegal.

And the Canadian government wasn’t pleased.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose scolded the Supreme Court and told the press she was “outraged” by the ruling.

“Let’s remember, there’s only one authority in Canada that has the authority and the expertise to make a drug into a medicine and that’s Health Canada,” she said during a press conference.

“Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which of course, requires a rigorous safety review and clinical trials with scientific evidence.”

She also asserted that the Supreme Court’s decision “normalizes” medical marijuana, something that she and the Conservative government would continue to fight against.

Devil's_Harvest
A 1942 Film, directed by Ray Test

This response was not a surprise. Ambrose, who has been at the forefront of Canada’s current drug war, has overseen the passage of regulations in October 2013 that have prevented any heroin-assisted addiction therapy outside of limited trials. She has delayed the introduction of e-cigarettes into the marketplace. And she has pushed for more regulations on prescription drug abuse.

From a political perspective, the Supreme Court decision could be interpreted as a rebuke of the Conservative Party’s tough-on-crime, anti-drugs strategy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been waging a Canadian War on Drugs since 2007 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes mandatory minimum sentences for possession of pot.

Considering the Conservative Party’s approach, then, Rona Ambrose’s reaction was predictable. She, along with the Tories, start from a position that regards cannabis as a “drug of abuse” rather than a drug of “potential use.”

At the same time, the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, have advocated an evidence-based approach to marijuana and is promoting its legalization and controlling access.

As the federal election in the fall grows nearer, the cannabis issue – and its use in the medical marketplace – will surely become heightened.

But is the story of medical marijuana purely a political issue in Canada? Not really. The medical establishment in Canada continues to grapple with the stigmatization and lack of evidence surrounding cannabis.

It’s important to be clear. Medical marijuana is 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 of this is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.

Just like Americans, in the years ahead Canadians are going to have to negotiate the politics of pain, pot, and pills. The fall election – a full year before the U.S. presidential election – will feature themes of consumer protection and drug regulation, the right to choose one’s medication and the government’s responsibility to protect Canadians.

The Supreme Court decision in early June made the issue of medical marijuana a lot more intriguing.

This article can also be viewed at http://www.alternet.org/drugs/canada-medical-cannabis-conundrum