Fort McMurray First Nation #468 Signs MOU with RavenQuest

Fort McMurray First Nation #468 Signs MOU with RavenQuest

RavenQuest signed an MOU with Fort McMurray #468 First Nation. Rvenquest BioMed Inc. signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Fort McMurray #468 First Nation or FM 468.

The MOU is the basis for the collaboration in the creation, maintenance, and financing of a facility for the production of cannabis lands to be controlled by FM 468.

The sales of the produced cannabis will be on the sovereign land. RavenQuest will provide technical expertise, resources for the staff, and financial opportunities relation to the production facility with an initial size of 24,000 square feet.

RavenQuest will receive about thirty percent ownership interest in the production facility. The original development, over time, will grow from 24,000 square feet to 250,000 square feet.

“We intend to emerge as the trusted provider of choice for Indigenous Peoples’ Cannabis industry partnerships across Canada. Our work in this area reflects a high level of understanding of the concerns and issues facing Indigenous communities across Canada,” he CEO of RavenQuest, George Robinson, said, “With the right partners, we see cannabis as a tremendous opportunity for economic diversification, self-reliance, employment and harm reduction within Indigenous communities.  This agreement is designed to deliver on all of these fronts, providing for a mutually beneficial arrangement for FM 468 and RavenQuest moving forward.”

Chief Ron Kreutzer stated: “By participating in the cannabis sector, it will allow Fort McMurray #468 First Nation to take one step closer to being a self-sufficient Nation for the next seven generations and providing world-class services to the Citizens.”

References

Nasdaq Global Newswire. (2018, March 19). RavenQuest Signs MOU With Fort McMurray #468 First Nation. Retrieved from https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/03/19/1441816/0/en/RavenQuest-Signs-MOU-With-Fort-McMurray-468-First-Nation.html.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-Large/Writer

(Last Update: September 28, 2016)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

He published in American Enterprise InstituteAnnaborgiaConatus NewsEarth Skin & EdenFresh Start Recovery CentreGordon Neighbourhood HouseHuffington PostIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based JournalJolly DragonsKwantlen Polytechnic University Psychology DepartmentLa Petite MortLearning Analytics Research GroupLifespan Cognition Psychology LabLost in SamaraMarijuana Party of CanadaMomMandyNoesis: The Journal of the Mega SocietyPiece of MindProduction ModeSynapseTeenFinancialThe PeakThe UbysseyThe Voice MagazineTransformative DialoguesTreasure Box KidsTrusted Clothes.

A Brief Note on Fredericton, New Brunswick and Finances

A Brief Note on Fredericton, New Brunswick and Finances

The Government of New Brunswick will be contributing $250,000 to the Cannabis Education and Awareness Fund. The New Brunswick government is looking for an advisory committee set of members in order to determine how best to spent the finances.

As recreational cannabis will be legalized later in the year, the Finance Minister Cathy Rogers wants a harm reduction, socially responsible approach in order to keep cannabis away from the hands and bodies of children and youth.

Four cannabis producers and the New Brunswick government signed agreements where 2% of the gross earnings will enter the Cannabis Education and Awareness Fund.

Rogers stated the monetary injections into the fund are starting in order for the education to be jumpstarted. Also, it will take time before sales begin to trickle in more funds.

The Chairman o the Cannabis Management Corporation will be one of the, and senior civil servants will be three of the seven members of the, advisory committee for New Brunswick.

The other members will come from the general public.

References

The Canadian Press. (2018, March 13). New Brunswick funding cannabis education and seeking advisors from public. Retrieved from https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/new-brunswick-funding-cannabis-education-and-seeking-advisors-from-public-1.3841091.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-Large/Writer

(Last Update: September 28, 2016)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

He published in American Enterprise InstituteAnnaborgiaConatus NewsEarth Skin & EdenFresh Start Recovery CentreGordon Neighbourhood HouseHuffington PostIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based JournalJolly DragonsKwantlen Polytechnic University Psychology DepartmentLa Petite MortLearning Analytics Research GroupLifespan Cognition Psychology LabLost in SamaraMarijuana Party of CanadaMomMandyNoesis: The Journal of the Mega SocietyPiece of MindProduction ModeSynapseTeenFinancialThe PeakThe UbysseyThe Voice MagazineTransformative DialoguesTreasure Box KidsTrusted Clothes.

Interview with Alison McMahon – Founder & CEO, Cannabis at Work

Interview with Alison McMahon – Founder & CEO, Cannabis at Work

Image Credit: Business of Cannabis.

 

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You are going to be presenting at the Psychedelic Career Day on a panel. What will be your angle of presentation? What will you be bringing to the panel?
 
Alison McMahon: The panel is talking about how the various panelists got into their careers. In my case, it is focused on cannabis and cannabis legalization. I will be sharing my journey of how I got into this sector.
 
Jacobsen: With regards to the field of psychedelia, some of the conversations around Psychedelic Career Day is that the university system does not necessarily see the psychedelic field as a legitimate discipline or field of study. Why do you consider psychedelia a legitimate field of study?
 
McMahon: I will talk from the cannabis background, which crosses over and is relevant. To be frank, I am not an expert in the psychedelic field. I was asked to participate in the panel and I find it very interesting. I am happy to share my background as a much as possible.
 
When we look at cannabis, given the scheduling of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug in the US and a schedule 2 drug in Canada, it has lead to a lot of limitations in terms of studying cannabis for medical purposes. 
 
We are starting to see some movement and some change now. But what that means, is we are behind when it comes to the science of cannabis and being able to speak to its medical benefits and medical efficacy. 

With some of the psychedelic drugs, it is a similar situation; there have been li

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mitations on studying them for medical purposes. So, that limits the amount of knowledge that we have on the medical benefits or the medical potential and the amount of application that we have seen of those substances for medical or therapeutic reasons.

 
Jacobsen:  Taking on step away from the particular panel, as well as Psychedelic Carrer Day, though associated with it, you found Cannabis at Work. What inspired you to found it? In other words, where did you see a need that you could found an organization that could fulfill that need?
 
McMahon: I was a human resources specialist and an entrepreneur prior to this work. I was involved in human resources. I helped employers with a variety of human resources topics. In 2015, in the Summer, I started to see and hear more about cannabis in the news.
It started along with what was happening in the US at the state level. It was pre-Trudeau, but, he was running and marijuana was part of his platform. It was a time when cannabis started to hit my radar more.
I realized that it was, on the one hand, one big opportunity for drug reform. I realized that there is a really big challenge for employers, especially, in the sectors that have employees that may have been prescribed cannabis medically, but the employer is really uneducated about the complexities between strains with THC or CBD in them – and how that affects impairment or not.
I realized there was a gap in knowledge. That there was something they were grappling with. It was helping employers gain knowledge and also update their own drug and alcohol policies while maintaining workplace safety and being respectful of human rights for individuals who are using cannabis for medical purposes.
Due to our participation in the cannabis sector in Canada, around Cannabis at Work, in the Spring of last year with the legalization of marijuana announcement, that is when we launched our staffing division. That makes us Canada’s only staffing agency focusing exclusively on the regulated cannabis sector in Canada.
 
Jacobsen: Often, with psychedelics and non-psychedelics, there are myths in the public mind. You mentioned some. What are one or two of those bigger myths that float around? What are the empirical truths that dispel them?
 
McMahon: I think that the biggest myth or point of fear for employers is using medical cannabis is that the employee will be high all of the time and be a huge safety or productivity risk in the workplace. Employers and the general public do not understand some of the nuances of medical cannabis.
Somebody, if they are taking it in the evening and they do not work until 12 or more hours later the next day, they may not be impaired, but they may be able to continue doing their job. There may not need to be any formal accommodation of that.
I think that is probably the biggest challenge, which is the lack of nuance in knowledge about cannabis. Everyone views cannabis as an impairment causing substance. But people can be using these strains with very little THC in them.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Alison.

 

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-large

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger, researches and writes for the Marijuana Party of Canada, and is a contributor for The Voice Magazine. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Bundale on the Upcoming Market for Cannabis

Bundale on the Upcoming Market for Cannabis

Brett Bundale talked about the end of cannbis prohibition in the Hamilton Spectator (2017). He proposes the thought experiment that the new providers for cannabis, the seller, will have outlets that are “very chic, very modern” with a clean look to them.

Only 6 or 7 months to go – 7 at the time of the article – before recreational cannabis begins to be legalized throughout the Canadian provinces and territories. The sellers are looking to capitalize on the days right after legalization, as there surely is a dormant market for cannabis that is bond to flourish in a Canada where marijuana use is widely accepted.

But the details as to what the purchase of over-the-counter recreational cannabis will look like is much in discussion and not certain. A lawyer from Ottawa, Trina Fraser, said, “Think more like tobacco as opposed to alcohol…It’s not going to be like you’ll walk in and there are samples.”

There are some hints such as New Brunswick’s with the retail scheme apparently “the most advanced among the province,” Bundale notes, “The province has issued construction specs featuring a standalone brick store with a black awning featuring the CannabisNB logo.”

The staff in the building will inform the potential customers about safe and responsible recreational cannabis use tied to harm reduction. The explanations will include the law of the area.

“In a single day, buying cannabis will go from a black-market purchase, steeped in surreptitious dealings and paranoid dealers, to a modern shopping experience,” Bundale stated, “A drug long condemned as the stuff of street gangs, organized crime and outlaw motorcycle clubs will be branded, packaged and displayed in stores.”

There will be an excise tax as well as consumption taxes too.

Saskatchewan wants or is looking into a private model. Yukon may limit the selling to the outlets run by the government; whereas, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut remain in consultations with the public.

Bundale said, “Governments are also still hammering out exactly how much the product will cost, how much it will be taxed, the minimum age for buyers, where smoking pot will be legal and driving impairment rules.”

A policy analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto, Ontario – which states that it is most influential think tank in the nation, in Canada. – named Rosalie Wyonch said, “For the provinces that will go Crown corporation for retail, it’s probably going to be a very polished experience.”

Wyonch stated that the privately sold cannabis outlets will have a variety or a “spectrum” of provisions based on the price tags. CSSDP’s own Jenna Valleriani, who is a University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate said that buying cannabis must be more convenient in order to fulfill the original goal of eliminating th black market.

“For people who have purchased from a friend or acquaintance for 15 years, those are really hard purchasing patterns to shift,” she says. “If you did have to go to a retail shop and wait in line for an hour, that’s likely going to deter people from going there.”

Bundale, B. (2017, December 26). What legal weed stores will look like: ‘Very chic, very modern, very clean-cut’. Retrieved from https://www.thespec.com/news-story/8022569-what-legal-weed-stores-will-look-like-very-chic-very-modern-very-clean-cut-/.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-large

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger, researches and writes for the Marijuana Party of Canada, and is a contributor for The Voice Magazine. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

An Interview with Dessy Pavlova, Chair of the Board for CSSDP

An Interview with Dessy Pavlova, Chair of the Board for CSSDP

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In brief, how did you get involved and get an interest in Canadian drug policy?

Dessy Pavlova: When I was in high school, I went to an alternative school. It was a school where people using drugs went to become educated. It was for people who could not function in a regular school environment, whether possession or skipping classes.

I was out of the hospital for a back operation. There were a few people with chronic disabilities or mental health issues. It was a cool school. We had time to socialize with other students there. We were free to stay all day. So, I would stay all day.

I met people with drug problems through TRIP Toronto. I did not get too involved with them because I was not going to events. There thing is outreach events. Through them, I found CSSDP.

I was about 18. When I graduated from the high school, I went to York University. I started the York chapter there. It was not successful, but it segued into being more involved over the years.

In 2015, I attended a CSSDP conference. I helped before the conference too. At the conference, we voted in a new board of directors. I am on the board of directors now. I have been active ever since.

Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come along with this station or position?

Pavlova: I am the chair. I have been treasurer and vice chair. I am the outreach chair, too. With vice chair, I was the support the other members in the board, especially the chairs. Sub-committee chairs need help. I was there to make sure things are streamlined.

In case the chairs can not do something, I will take the leadership role. As outreach chair, I coordinate the website and events with both the board and chapters. Anytime there are events. We are putting new features such as the calendar on the website.

It is exciting because it will be a way to put chapters across Canada in one place. You can see the event, buy tickets to the event, and help bring everybody together. I see that as my main role, bringing everybody together and then streamlining communication and collaboration efforts.

Jacobsen: What do you consider the core principle of CSSDP?

Pavlova: If we were to reduce it to one, it would be harm reduction, but connected to sensible drug policy too. It is not about reducing harm alone. It is about putting out the education for people to make informed decisions.

I found that successful. Education goes farther than politicians and older adults give credit.

Jacobsen: Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?

Pavlova: I hope we become more recognized and involved with the government. We are a good means for them to reach youth.

“Just Say, ‘No!’” does not work. I am glad. They are working with us, e.g. workshops and roundtables. They will be more in touch youth and help solve some of these social problems.

Jacobsen: The two major philosophies to implement in society at large are the punitive or zero tolerance approaches and the harm reduction approaches. What is preferable to you, and why?

Pavlova: The harm reduction approach is more effective. You see this. In anything that we have been told not to do and punished for, e.g. if you look at safe sex, we are told to not have sex as teenagers. The truth: I do not know a single teenager who does not have sex.

Now, the ones practicing harm reduction would have safe sex. They become educated. It is the same situation. If you bar a child from doing something, they rebel.

Jacobsen: In addition, there are family and child protective services. There are means through which negative family impacts on a child and on youth can be dealt with apart from outright punishment approaches.

Pavlova: Punishment approaches in general cause more harm by separating a child from their parent than educating both parent and child on potential harms and how to reduce them. The separation of families is not the way to do it.

Cannabis is not considered the neighbourhood menace. People did not want to sign the names on the chapter list because they were scared since they smoked pot that cops would somehow get their hands on the list.

Now, we are coming to the point where we accept it is not that great of a harm and lesser than putting people in jail. I have seen parent with very sick children go to jail, who are currently in jail, because they provided medicine to their kids. Cannabis is only one. The conversation starts here.

Jacobsen: We were talking about marijuana and harm reduction philosophies in practice in Canada, especially since CSSDP mostly advocates for harm reduction philosophies, mentoring youth, and educating youth and the public at large on these issues.

We have an inverted pyramid of harm and legality/illegality or licit/illicit drugs or substances. For instance, the common examples are cigarettes and alcohol are legal, but have huge costs to individuals, families, communities, and society at large.

Whereas, you have things like marijuana. It seems, according to the evidence, far less harmful. Yet, we place alcohol and cigarettes near the bottom of the non-harm pyramid, and they are legal, but marijuana is illegal is considered relatively harmless.

This is something that plays out in many domains and substances. What is the source of this misconception at large?

Pavlova: It is largely political. Those of us that have studied the history of drugs that cannabis along with opium were made illegal mostly due to racism through propaganda. As soon as we make something legal, the harms associated drop.

To me, it is amazing cannabis is becoming legal. I never thought about this as a possibility in my lifetime. I really didn’t. Being a medical patient, it is amazing to me. It brings opportunities.

So, it is about how things are portrayed. Once something becomes legal, it’s state in the eyes of the general public changes rather than because of the evidence.

Jacobsen: Based on your better knowledge of the history of drugs, you mentioned racism as a major factor. Not only certain drugs being illegal, even though they have more benefits than harms. What people and drugs were associated with racism and the illegality of drugs?

Pavlova: Now, I can’t say for all drugs, but when opium was a problem, specifically in Vancouver. It was associated with Chinese immigrants. Basically, we had immigrants coming to the country. Due to lack of work and structure of society, they were indulging in a lot of drugs. It was not them alone. Even now, Rastafarian people use cannabis, on a regular basis.

(Laugh)

It is white people who have made a medicinal community, where the value of that is even being brought to light. It has been 20 years of white people fighting to get it legal to show its medicinal value.

Same with opium. There are medicinal benefits to this, but the racism continues. That iss why it is such a problem. As we legalize, we need to keep that in mind because not allowing the people that have used such a substance culturally to be a part of it because of its previous criminal charges or not accessible financially is a problem.

It continues the racist cycle. We have the opportunity here to stop it.

Jacobsen: Two things related to one root. One is inertia to the past, which has impacts in the present. The other is the interactions in daily life with those that use it recreationally or therapeutically – how we behave, act, and so on, with them as well – will have impacts in the future in the way the inertia of the past is influencing us now.

It is a future-oriented responsibility. Any thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Pavlova: We have come a long way with drug policy. We have a lot of work to do. Even though cannabis is my own activist thing as a medicinal patient, this is not where the conversation ends. There are societal problems. We try to blame it on drug use.

The truth is that it is not because of drug use or irresponsible drug use. It is a symptom of a wider issue. The number one thing we can do to mitigate that symptom or alleviate that symptom is educate.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Dessy.

An Interview with Daniel Greig, Member of the Board of Directors for CSSDP

An Interview with Daniel Greig, Member of the Board of Directors for CSSDP

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get and interest in Canadian drug policy?

Daniel Greig: My interest is predominantly in the realm of psychedelics. I have, first and foremost, an academic and ethical interest in studying these because they have [a] potential for healing people [that] current medications don’t. So, we should be studying these substances.

I am in Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy on the side [as part of this project]. That’s how I got involved.

Jacobsen: If this is on the side, and now more in the main for you, what are your main set of responsibilities?

Greig: My main responsibility is research on psychedelics.

Jacobsen: What does the main research state on the therapeutic effects of psychedelics?

Greig: For psilocybin, there are a whole bunch of studies. There was one that has earned a lot of press. It finds lasting personality change from the transcendental/mystical experiences.

There s a measurable difference in people’s personalities in the domain of openness after a single use of the substance. The paper that this is in mentions the only comparable finding was 3 months spent meditating in the mountains.

That was the only comparable experimental manipulation to produce a measurable change in personality. It is good compared to other medications, which don’t show [nearly as profound] changes in people’s personality or behaviour.

There are [palliative] medications [that focuses on symptoms]. Psychedelics are not used [in this way and] produce measurable differences, rather than [effectively making people] ‘drugged up’ all of the time. That’s a good thing. People can [heal and] get off them.

Jacobsen: That makes me think. First, that’s remarkable. Second, many Canadians and more Americans don’t believe in evolutionary theory. Of course, evolution happened to produce us. An argument could be made that mind-altering substances could have a co-evolution with human beings.

Maybe, 10,000 years ago with the foundation of the agricultural revolution, even further with the Aboriginal Dreamtime narratives from 40,000 years ‘popping up’.

Could there be a decent argument made from the obvious showcase of changes equivalent to three months of meditation with psilocybin, and that we’re almost ‘wired up’ for these experiences?

Greig: Definitely, the psychedelic experiences are as much a part of the properties of the brain and [our] physiology as [they are of] the drug. People have engaged in ritualistic alterations of consciousness, which have produced similar hallucinations and benefits.

People used psychedelics back in the day. As far as that having some purposeful connection, or humans being wired to take them, you get into a [difficult philosophical problem that isn’t really necessary to consider]. Maybe, it is an interface for human consciousness with the planet, which is a legitimate theory [presented] for co-evolution.

It might be an entailment of [developing] theories, [but] I don’t think that it’s relevant, for or against, the uses of these things in general. The bottom line, they [may] have wonderful effects for the mind.

Jacobsen: What do you consider the core principle or value of CSSDP?

Greig: I will talk about psychedelics first and then the [organization]. It is a new field. There will be more people doing the research in the future. [CSSDP] is good for networking students. It is good for building these longer-lasting networks of [similarly interested] people.

There are a lot of people in the organization like Evan Loster, Gonzo Nieto, Andras Lenart, and Michelle Thiessen. [who are] all interested in psychedelics. It is a good network. We have been able to connect and contribute ideas to each other.

[It is also beneficial to facilitate the advocacy of] youth voice[s] [on issues that effect them]. They are listened to the least.

[When it comes to drug policy], people [often] say, “What about the kids, man?!” Who isn’t for the kids? Advocacy for the youth is another important aspect.

Jacobsen: Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?

Greig: I hope it continues to grow. That more networks happen[ing] with other drug policy groups. [Like] MAPS [a growing number of] harm reduction groups. I hope the branches extend [and] I hope [that] facilitate[s] quicker reform for drug policy [as much is desperately needed]

Jacobsen: Two main philosophies, as theory and practice, come into the conversation, typically. One is punitive or zero tolerance. The other is harm reduction. What is a preferable approach to you, and why?

Greig: Harm reduction, it makes the most sense. Drug use is a “victimless crime.” It doesn’t [intrinsically] hurt anybody or anything. It is only a crime by virtue by being criminal to begin with. There is no independent justification for this to continue being a crime and [for] ‘drug addicts’ to be criminals.

It is arbitrary how different substances are perceived. Addiction rates [are] not high enough to warrant criminalization. Just because somebody [has] a [controlled] substance on them, it doesn’t’ make sense to ruin their lives, put them in jail, and limit their travel at a later time.

There are [often] moral judgments used to talk about drugs and drug use. I don’t consider [this] a [relevant] reflection of people’s characters, [especially not one that could reasonably be used] to justify criminalization. On the other hand, a lot of the harms with drug use are because of them being illegal.

Jacobsen: We have a notion about legality and harmfulness of drugs. The pyramid is inverted. Cigarettes and alcohol are considered benign. Whereas, things like LSD, psilocybin, mushrooms, and marijuana, are less harmful to individuals and collectives, economically and for health.

Any thoughts on the source of this and its continued maintenance as a generalized mythology?

Greig: Largely, society is automatic. It is difficult to change automatic tendencies. It is something people are socialized into – these attitudes, even if they don’t make [rational] sense.

Some substances are talked about, but many are ‘hushed’ in a way. [Changing general attitudes about the relative harms and benefits of drugs that can be used recreationally] is going to be a longer process that will, hopefully, happen in the future. There is a lot of interesting research. There’s a research named Dr. David Nutt,

He was fired [as] one of the [UK] public health ministers by saying, “MDMA was less harmful than horseback riding.” That is, you were less likely to be harmed through horseback riding rather than taking MDMA. [Given that this is a statement made by a researcher based on comparisons of scientific research, it can only reflect an irrational attitude towards the issues of drug legislation that is going to take a little more than science itself to correct. But legislation can be where it starts!]

Jacobsen: Is that statement factually true?

Greig: There’s a small chance of injury in either case. Horseback riding [apparently] has a higher one than MDMA.

Jacobsen: Wow. If we take into account many of the partnerships and events thrown by CSSDP, what do you consider the utility of them to the general movement of non-partisan advocacy for harm reduction policies and youth mentorship regarding drug policy in Canada?

Greig: We do a lot of events. For [example] the conferences coming up, for 9/20, the International Day of Mushroom Awareness is good for networking people and having them in one place, especially those with similar ends.

They can collaborate, go into the world, and utilize these events. We have [more] proactive things like [the] cannabis roundtable for youth voices. It required producing an outcome document an presenting it [to the cannabis legalization task force].

We have a number of petitions. We have lots of different [avenues for creating] changes.

Jacobsen: The much older and the much younger face in different ways, but a rooted and similar problem, which is ageism. CSSDP is a youth run and oriented organization. It might come across that young based ageism. I suspect. Does this reflect personal experience for you – reaching out to other organizations, doing news media contacts, and so on?

Greig: Not too much personally, it might be the position for me. For cannabis, there have been people doing that for a much longer time. On that note, I haven’t gotten into the drug policy [too much, I’m more involved in the] the academic, stuff.

Jacobsen: The position, your status, will buffer it. For those that don’t, it won’t. And that’s a problem, but, maybe, not as heavy a problem as might be assumed (by me). Are there any recommended researchers by you?

Greig: Yes, definitely! Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is doing the research out of the Imperial College, London. He is doing brain imaging or neuroimaging research. It has been acquiring a lot of press. His studies are interesting to read.

He works with Dr. Karl Friston. He writes about the free energy principle, which is a generalized theory of how the brain performs unconscious inference. It is a mathematical system of looking at the brain in a probabilistic way to see how it makes sense of the world. It is independently interesting, if you have an interest in those areas.

Dr. Dan Merkur, he was a professor at the University of Toronto. He wrote books about psychedelics, Gnosticism, and so on. He is not talked about much in psychedelic circles.

His research seems extra relevant to me. I think it can facilitate ideas about the psychedelic state.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Daniel.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-large

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger, researches and writes for the Marijuana Party of Canada, and is a contributor for The Voice Magazine. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Listen to youth when developing youth drug policy

Listen to youth when developing youth drug policy

The following article was initially presented as a discussion paper at First, Do Less Harm: The Future of Drug Policy in Canada on January 31st, 2017, a panel sponsored by The Canadian Harm Reduction Network and The University of Toronto Centre for Community Partnerships.

First, Do Less Harm: Protecting the Youth

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) is always working to reduce the potential harms of bad policy on young people by including youth voices and input in some of the bigger decisions happening in Canada. Under the guise of “protecting the youth,” we often create policies that do more harm and does little to actively protect young people. When looking at doing less harm, we have to consult the evidence.

Listening to Youth

In September, CSSDP organized a youth roundtable that focused on elements of the legalization task force discussion paper to show how we can do less harm, starting with cannabis.

CSSDP noticed that youth were not being consulted outside of the general public consultation and that stakeholder meetings focused more on organizations that work with youth, rather than youth themselves. To give youth a clear voice on upcoming cannabis legalization, CSSDP, with support from Lift and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, hosted a youth roundtable in September called Youth Speak: Cannabis Policy in the 21st Century, which was attended by Task Force member Catherine Zahn, a representative from the legalization secretariat, MP Vaughan, and MP Erskine-Smith. We reviewed the discussions and produced a report based on feedback from 21 diverse youth voices in Toronto, including peer youth workers who work with at-risk youth, medical cannabis patients, students, and those who work in the illegal and legal cannabis industries. The young people who participated were aged 18-29.

The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey shows that in 2015, self-reported alcohol use amongst grades 7-12 was over 45%, tobacco use was 34%, cannabis was at 22%, and each figure increase with age. The highest use of cannabis was among those between 20-24—with 26% using in the last year. These numbers could be even higher, as they don’t capture the many at-risk or homeless youth who may fall outside of what’s reported in the survey.

Criminalizing Young People

Prohibition has been constructed as a way to protect youth, but it really hasn’t done much to keep young people away from illegal drugs like cannabis; instead they have become one of the most criminalized populations for cannabis-related charges. The criminalization of youth has effects on their future in many ways, such as getting loans, housing, financial aid, and even employment. And we have found that a criminal approach to cannabis possession, production, and distribution causes more harm than the actions themselves. In fact, some youth describe criminal records as, “a gateway to longer prison sentences and the cycle of imprisonment.” Of course, this relates not just to cannabis, but to all drugs.

For example, youth talked about how age restrictions are not about when it’s safe to initiate use, but when we think young people can make reasonable choices. Setting age limits too high means one of our largest cannabis using populations is now outside the regulated system. High rates of use among young people are a key reason why youth felt the age limit should not be too high, and this recommendation was reflected in the Task Force recommendations.

One of the most predominant and recurring themes centered on the criminalization of young people: we must ensure we do not thinly veil restrictions that actually do more harm as “protecting youth.” When it comes to criminalizing youth, the key recommendation focused on youth offences that occur outside the regulated system. Like we see with underage alcohol access, cannabis access will happen outside of the regulated system even if it mirrors the drinking ages. For youth that use cannabis, it should not come with a criminal record. Youth recommended some kind of decriminalized/low penalty system like ticketing or community service, although there were some disagreements on what appropriate alternatives to criminal sanctions there could be. For example, ticketing could further disenfranchise the most vulnerable young people who can’t afford to pay, while community service may take at-risk youth away from jobs and school. The Task Force recommendations also reflected that simple possession of cannabis by youth should not be a criminal offence. Many also noted that although outside the scope of the task force, past non-violent criminal records should be expunged, particularly underscored by youth who worked with other at-risk and homeless youth, where the consequences are magnified.

Cannabis Education

Young people also expressed the need to have access to evidence-based but non-judgemental education about cannabis and other drug use. A good example is iMinds learning resources from BC, which focuses on increasing youth drug literacy. Most of the youth at the roundtable didn’t remember anything but abstinence-only education or anything specific about cannabis use in particular. Youth felt this may be because educators worry about being seen as “pro-drug” should they provide realistic drug education. Cannabis and other drug education needs to include harm reduction, and “protecting the youth” must include protecting those young people who do choose to use drugs. This should include information about things like driving under the influence without stigmatizing use itself. For example, we’ve done a good job changing the public opinion on drinking and driving, without stigmatizing alcohol use itself.

Although cannabis education is a big positive step towards harm reduction in a legalized framework, it is only the first of many topics to cover in the wider conversation on the future of drug use and drug education in Canada.

Education Models and Tool kits

CSSDP has been looking at education models from within Canada and other jurisdictions, such as ‘Cannabis Conversations’ from Washington State, as well at the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse’s Cannabis Education Toolkit. While these are a good starting point, we feel that the lack of inclusion of youth voices in both developing and testing these tool kits is problematic. For example, we found that often these tool kits overlook the nuances of cannabis use and overstate the scientific evidence, which could undermine the effectiveness of prevention efforts among youth, particularly those who are older, as they might have personal experiences that don’t align with these descriptors, resulting in fostering distrust. Some strengths might include the acknowledgment of medical use and pleasure as reasons people use cannabis, as well as different talking points for different age groups. Youth at the roundtable stressed the importance of education being developed with the input of youth and young people, including those who do and those who do not use cannabis, in order to test the curriculum and provide feedback.

Upcoming Cannabis Education and Research Campaign

Moving forward, CSSDP is beginning an education and research campaign that prioritizes youth input. We hope to stress the need for harm reduction in cannabis education and recognize that this is the first step in a much wider conversation around youth education and cannabis access. Access to age-appropriate materials that start in elementary school will be beneficial to youth, but these materials should be developed with the input of young people to really unpack what it means to ‘protect young people’ in this context. For the young people we worked with, this meant keeping the criminalization of youth, which arguably does the most harm, at the forefront of these conversations.

Collaboration Opportunities for Researchers and Educators

We’re seeking collaborators on this cannabis education campaign and hope that we can help develop meaningful tools to give young people access to the education they deserve. If you have questions or are interested in contributing, connect with us.


Below is the video from the First, Do Less Harm panel, moderated by Joe Fiorito and featuring panelists Patricia Erickson, Raffi Balian, Trevor Stratton, Eugene Oscapella, as well as CSSDP representative, Dessy Pavlova.

Dessy Pavlova

Dessy Pavlova

Chair

A professional writing and English graduate, aspiring project manager and sensible drug policy advocate, Dessy works for Lift and does research, outreach, writing and web development.
Find out more.

Cannabis to Marihuana: What’s In a Name?

Cannabis to Marihuana: What’s In a Name?

How did we go from using the term cannabis to marihuana, and back again? In August, the Federal Government of Canada introduced the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. The ACMPR is an update to previous legislation that was found to be in violation of Canadians’ right to reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes (Allard v. Canada, 2016). This new legislation updated the antiquated language the government had previously been using. The previous framework, Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), used the term ‘marihuana’ instead of the plant’s actual name: cannabis.

What’s in a name: Cannabis to Marijuana

The term cannabis originated in Latin and Greek etymology and was first used by the Scythians in reference to the plant as early as the second century B.C.E. The Scythians are credited with spreading use of the plant through the Middle East and into Europe, where it would eventually receive its scientific classification from botanist Carolus Linnaeus in 1753: cannabis sativa. Prior to the 1900s, the word cannabis was well-known and found on the ingredient list of medications for common ailments such as cough medicines and sleep aids. In common language, ‘marijuana’ replaced the original term. Marijuana is a term with somewhat different roots.

Harry Anslinger, the first director for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, is responsible for popularizing the term marijuana/marihuana. According to Martin Lee’s latest book Smoke Signals, the term marijuana/marihuana can be traced back to the early 1930s when it appeared in a campaign aimed at smearing Mexican migrants and cannabis, their substance of choice.

“By stigmatizing marijuana and the ‘foreigners’ who smoked it . . . [the U.S. government] succeeded in exacerbating anti-Mexican sentiment during the Great Depression, when many Anglos felt they were competing with brown-skinned migrants for scarce jobs . . . Anslinger disclosed in 1936 that 50 percent of violent crimes committed in districts occupied by ‘Mexicans, Greeks, Turks, Filipinos, Spaniards, Latin Americans, and Negros may be traced to the use of marihuana’ . . . Anslinger brandished the non-English term like a truncheon to emphasize the weed’s connection to alien elements that crept over the Mexican border into the United States.” (p. 51)

Cannabis and the individuals who used it were painted as blemishes on society.

The Racist Roots

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (United States) was passed and the term, steeped in racism, was written into law. Canada shares a similar history of drug prohibition: Cannabis was added to the Confidential Restricted List in 1923 under the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill and 1937 marked the first arrest for cannabis that occurred in Canada. It’s no secret that a disproportionate number of minorities have been targeted by the War on Drugs. In Canada, Blacks and Aboriginals make up a significant portion of the prison population while making up a much smaller proportion of the general population, however, they are disproportionately arrested for cannabis-related crimes when compared to whites, despite comparable rates of use.

Bringing Science Back

Reintegration of cannabis’s scientific name into common and political discourse represents a change in attitude towards the substance, both publicly and politically. The Federal Government’s decision to replace the ignorant term marijuana is a step towards more inclusive, academic, and scientific policies. The words we choose to use often reflect our beliefs and biases, so let’s hope this signals a shift in the government’s approach and perspective on one of the country’s most widely consumed drugs.

With science being re-integrated into drug policy, we hope our government values evidence and will incorporate what young people have to say about cannabis legalization into upcoming laws – and realize that cannabis is just the beginning for harm reduction and sensible drug policy in Canada. Don’t forget to sign our petition to stop the continued criminalization of dispensary workers in Toronto!

For more information

Khenti, A. (2013). The Canadian War on Drugs: Structural violence and unequal treatment of Black Canadians. The International Journal on Drug Policy, 25(2), 190-195.

Lee, M. A. (2013). Smoke Signals

http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/a-former-nixon-aide-admitted-the-war-on-drugs-was-designed-to-screw-over-blacks-and-hippies-vgtrn

 

Michelle Theissen

Michelle Theissen

Treasurer

An Honours graduate with a Psychology B.A. from the University of British Columbia, Michelle will begin her Masters in Clinical Psychology in fall 2016, continuing her research examining the motivations and outcomes of recreational and therapeutic use of cannabis and psychedelics. Find out more.

Megan L. Stager

CSSDP Member

Megan is a psychology student at the University of British Columbia, currently in the final year of her B.A. Hons. Her research interests include legal psychology, morality, drug policy, and well-being. In her spare time, Megan is involved in knowledge dissemination and serves as Treasurer of the Okanagan chapter of the CSSDP.

Youth Report on Cannabis Legalization

Youth Report on Cannabis Legalization

Together with the support of Lift and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), CSSDP hosted a youth roundtable in Toronto on September 7, 2016, providing a platform for young people to contribute input to the Task Force for Marijuana Regulation and Legalization on what sensible drug policy should look like. Today, we’re proud to report the findings of “Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century.”

Over 21 youth aged 18-29 years old, with diverse backgrounds both within and outside of the current cannabis industry, came together to discuss and provide insights to what the end of prohibition should look like. We broke up into groups to examine and unpack four key topics that affect youth and produced ten main recommendations from our discussions which will be officially presented to the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation this Friday September 23, 2016, by our Strategic Advisors and past board members, Jenna Valleriani and Nazlee Maghsoudi. One of our most important findings? Attendees reinforced the idea that science-based, factual education and harm reduction awareness is the most effective way to “protect youth”. From what we’ve heard, it sounds like youth know sensible drug policy, but will our politicians listen?

Here are the core recommendations from the outcome document:

  1. Age restrictions around cannabis access should be as low as possible, with the recommendation of not exceeding legal drinking ages across provinces.
  2. Medical access to cannabis should remain a separate system without age restrictions, but should require physician support.
  3. Youth offenses outside the regulated system should be decriminalized. Criminal sanctions should be replaced with alternatives such as mandatory education, fines, and/or community service.
  4. Past youth criminal records for simple possession and sale of cannabis should be expunged.
  5. Cannabis education should prioritize the development of youth’s “cannabis literacy” by including evidence-based assessment of risks, harm reduction principles, and not passing judgment on use.
  6. Cannabis education should start as early as possible with age-appropriate content, be created with the input of youth and young people, including those who use cannabis, and delivered by a trained facilitator or peer.
  7. Home cultivation of cannabis should be permitted under the new regulatory regime.
  8. Cannabis should not be distributed alongside alcohol, as this would likely exacerbate public health concerns associated with polydrug use.
  9. Distribution of cannabis should include the provision of cannabis education to patrons
  10. People with past non-violent cannabis-related charges should be permitted to participate in, and benefit from, the new legal market for cannabis.

Read the full report here and tell us what you think.

We want to extend special thanks to Dr. Catherine Zahn from the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, Daphne Jurgens, the Senior Advisor for The Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat, as well as the Honourable MP Adam Vaughan and Honourable MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith for joining us in discussing upcoming laws that disproportionately affect youth and for giving young people a chance to be heard. Additionally, we could not have done it without the generous support of Lift and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy for their assistance with content and facilitation.

You can see the press release on our findings here. Make sure to check out our other blogs on cannabis legalization and please sign our petition to the City of Toronto to stop criminalizing dispensary workers.

Jenna Valleriani

Jenna Valleriani

Advisor

A doctoral candidate in Sociology and the Collaborative Addiction Studies at the University of Toronto, Jenna was on the CSSDP board of directors from November 2013, acted as Conference Chair for CSSDP's 2015 conference, was CSSDP representative on the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition steering committee, and volunteers with NORML Canada. Find out more.

Dessy Pavlova

Dessy Pavlova

Chair

A professional writing and English graduate, aspiring project manager and sensible drug policy advocate, Dessy works for Lift and does research, outreach, writing and web development.
Find out more.

Legalizing Cannabis: Lessons for Canada

Legalizing Cannabis: Lessons for Canada

Canada has set a deadline for legalizing cannabis. By spring 2017, the substance will be available for recreational use. During the summer, the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, on behalf of the Liberal government, unveiled the Task Force for Marijuana Legalization. The Task Force will be responsible for considering all factors that affect the process. Taking into account the opinions of experts, the Task Force will evaluate factors like addiction, youth, health, and more importantly, new laws and international treaties.

Everything looks ready to start pushing the process forward. But, until then, there is a long way to go and a lot of things that should be implemented first. What people usually forget, though, is that until it’s legalized, marijuana is still illegal. And decriminalization? Unlikely.

Lessons Learned on Legalizing Cannabis

Of course, Canada is not the first country, and hopefully not the last, to go through the process of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. There are a few countries around the world that Canada can look up to when it comes to cannabis. For instance, five US states (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC), Portugal, and Netherlands have legalized the substance, at least partially. This infographic from OMQ Law is focused on laws and policies of these countries. Their experience can serve as a useful guide for Canada and its new drug policies.

Let’s take a look at the comparison of laws and practices in the US, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

A Story of Overdose

A Story of Overdose

When I was 16, I overdosed on drugs. I wasn’t an underage youth taking illegal drugs from unsafe street sources without the appropriate knowledge, but a new and confused chronic pain patient looking for relief from the only easily accessible medication I had access to – Advil. My experience, although a far cry from the overdose crises throughout Canada and the US, especially considering the current fentanyl epidemic, is intertwined with how we view and handle drug abuse, how our medical system inadvertently creates addiction, and how we can better support those who need and want to use drugs.

12 years ago, I was paralyzed from my ribs-down after a botched back operation for scoliosis. In the hospital, I was given morphine, but the side effects were greater than the pain. I was prescribed a few pills, but really didn’t find them effective. When I was discharged 6 months later, there was very little support for the chronic pain that started slowly and silently in the months that followed. Pain became a torrential downpour on my body – from nerve pain down my legs, to spasms up my spine, to chronic migraines. As a teenager, I didn’t know how to relieve the pain – maybe half a bottle of Advil over the period of 24 hours would help? I was carted to the hospital by ambulance, and told I was put on the list for a liver transplant. I had overdosed.

Clearly, I didn’t die. I also found a solution for my chronic pain that has limited negative side effects, and from which there has never been a lethal overdose – medical cannabis. Fortunately, cannabis is a medical solution for a lot of patients – but it’s not for everyone. Considering fentanyl is now prescribed for the multi-layered and sometimes simply excruciating full-body pain I suffer from on a daily basis, I know how lucky I am to have found relief in a substance that works for me. Not everyone is so lucky, and that’s why the cannabis conversation is only the beginning. Often, addiction and eventual overdose starts from a medical prescription, and escalates to sources only available through prohibition. Other times, it’s about not knowing the effects of a drug, or not knowing it’s purity, and not having access to those educational resources. The point is not to judge and criminalize those that use drugs, but to help through our school and medical systems. Just say know, and remember that evidence-based information is the best prevention of overdoses.

As a youth that nearly lost her life due to improper drug knowledge, limited support, and minimal understanding of drug effects, I know first hand how important it is to be heard on how drug and health policies effect youth – if only to reduce harm. CSSDP is co-hosting Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century to help give youth a voice on cannabis in particular – but the conversation only begins with cannabis. Through open dialogue and debate we hope to raise awareness about overdoses, about addiction, and about sensible drug policy. What’s next for drug policy in Canada after cannabis legalization? Only time will tell, but at least we’re taking the steps towards change, talking about drugs and drug policy with our parents, professors, politicians and peers, becoming aware of the social impacts of criminalizing drug users under prohibition, and making life-saving solutions like naloxone readily available.

This International Overdose Awareness Day, let’s support both those who choose to and those who need to use drugs with knowledge and understanding, provide youth with the appropriate education and tools to make informed decisions, and remember those who overdosed and passed away, and the lives that are impacted every day.

Dessy Pavlova

Dessy Pavlova

Chair

A professional writing and English graduate, aspiring project manager and sensible drug policy advocate, Dessy works for Lift and does research, outreach, writing and web development.
Find out more.

Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century

Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century

With cannabis legalization promised in 2017, youth voices on drug policy have never been so loud.

It’s time for students and youth to have their say about cannabis legalization and upcoming drug policy at “Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century,” a forum hosted by Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and sponsored by Lift on September 7th, 2016 at the Centre for Social Innovation. We will be discussing 4 primary topics at this legalization workshop:

  1. Age Restrictions
  2. The Criminalization of Youth
  3. Prevention and Education
  4. Production, Distribution and Access Restrictions

The purpose of this forum is to amplify student and youth voices. Our first youth round table on cannabis legalization will start by covering the history of cannabis in Canada and the trajectory that resulted in prohibition. After examining the evidence, attendees will have the opportunity to give feedback on several topics pertaining to cannabis legalization. The workshop will be hosted for youth by youth, and we encourage  those interested to get involved! With the presence of local politicians, Dr. Catherine Zahn from the Legalization Task Force, and MP Erksine-Smith, this is an opportunity to be heard and create change towards more sensible drug policy.

Check out the Lift Cannabis blog on the event here, share our flyer, and join the conversation on twitter @CSSDP. Also, contact jennav@cssdp.org for more information or to get a personal invite to the event. Meanwhile, sign our petition!

Position Statement: Stop Raiding Dispensaries!

Position Statement: Stop Raiding Dispensaries!

Dispensaries in Canada continue to fill a void in access to medical cannabis, engaging in this act of civil disobedience for almost 20 years. On Wednesday, August 10th, Toronto police conducted a continuation of the Project Claudia raids on several more dispensaries, in addition to the dispensaries raided last week. Both the TPS and the City of Toronto have other means at their disposal for solving the problems posed by storefront dispensaries that does not include arresting otherwise law abiding Toronto citizens. The rapid expansion of dispensaries in Canada is an indication that Canadians in general are hopeful for regulated, retail access under a legalized regime and that many medical patients are in agreement.

Why are we criminalizing dispensary workers?

Particularly, CSSDP is concerned for the many young people who have been arrested, and will likely have criminal records for the rest of their lives in the wake of Project Claudia. The raids the Toronto Police have engaged in disproportionately punish entry-level retail workers. Cannabis prohibition already affects youth disproportionately in Canada. This demographic has some of the highest rates of arrests for cannabis related offences. Criminal charges have long lasting consequences on travel, employment opportunities, and family relationships. Further, with continued issues around access to medical cannabis, particularly for youth under the age of 25, these raids put many users who rely on dispensaries for medical access at greater risk, The new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) defends the continued criminalization of storefront dispensaries with the fact that the product is unregulated. No other justifications are given for this state of affairs. If the only potential harms of storefront dispensaries are a lack of regulations, then it seems more appropriate to regulate them rather than allow a state of affairs to persist that may cause unnecessary harm. Cannabis is safer than other regulated substances like alcohol. It’s time to take this fact seriously.

Arrests aren’t the answer

CSSDP supports regulated access to cannabis for personal use, and applauds the Liberal government for this monumental step forward in their move to legalize cannabis, and to allow personal cultivation under the ACMPR. However, we urge the Toronto Police to stop raiding storefront dispensaries. Simply arresting those involved with will lead to an exclusive industry and a thriving illicit underground economy post-legalization. “The City of Toronto are in a unique position to set themselves up as one of the most important stakeholders as legalization unfolds,” says CSSDP Vice-Chair, Dessy Pavlova, “and could build a template that would allow dispensaries to be included in future regulations, following places such as Victoria and Vancouver in B.C.” CSSDP is hopeful for the development of an inclusive industry that represents a variety of voices, including those who have been working in this industry and providing medical access and products for decades in Canada.

Canada After Cannabis: What’s Next for Drug Policy Reform?

Canada After Cannabis: What’s Next for Drug Policy Reform?

For better or for worse, cannabis legalization is on its way. The recent Project Claudia raids in Toronto and the ongoing criminalization of possession for small amounts of cannabis throughout Canada, in spite of the government’s promise to legalize in spring 2017, has many criticizing the government’s first steps.

In some ways, our institution’s attitudes towards Cannabis are more harsh now than before our government’s legalization promise. However, international reactions remain generally positive. Perhaps this positivity has something to do with Canada’s potential to establish a more open market than the currently limited legalization models used in the United States, where federal law limits cannabis-based businesses from using banking systems. Regardless of the outcome, the ongoing legalization debate could set a useful precedent for other medicines, many plants among them, that are difficult to access because of their legal status. Psilocybin, Ayahuasca, LSD, and MDMA have all been shown to have a positive impact on well-being in various scientific studies. Some correlational studies even find positive relationships between mental health and psychedelic use in populations that use these substances for non-medicinal purposes (see here and here). Using the building momentum of cannabis legalization, the psychedelic therapy movement might be especially well-positioned to continue to change attitudes and correct the long-standing bureaucratic barriers to optimal healthcare that cannabis legalization activists have long been trying to overcome.

Psilocybin and alternative healthcare

Consider this 2011 pilot study that was performed at John Hopkins University School of Medicine. The purpose: to evaluate the potential of psilocybin in treating end-of-life anxiety experienced by terminal cancer patients. The results showed that administering psilocybin in conjunction with ongoing psychotherapy sessions reduced symptoms of anxiety, and elevations in mood lasted 6 months or longer. Compare these results to a study from 2008 that examined both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and the common antidepressant Sertraline as two distinct treatment methods for end-of-life anxiety. It was found that patients treated with CBT – which focuses on intervening in and changing the perceptions that are characteristic of anxiety or depression – did not respond well to CBT if they had a poor perception of their own health. This presents an obvious potential difficulty for using this method with someone diagnosed with terminal cancer. The group that was treated with Sertraline in this study showed greater reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to the CBT group, but no improvement was found after discontinuation of the medication. This indicates that Sertraline might best be considered a palliative (symptom-focused) treatment but not a curative (cause-focused) treatment for end-of-life anxiety. Given that psilocybin resulted in alleviation of anxiety for extended periods after only a single exposure to a therapeutic dose, there is reason to believe that it is a curative medication when used alongside therapy.

More recently, psilocybin has been used to treat depression with positive results, and a few small neuroimaging studies, including one with LSD published just this year, have gained much attention for the apparent capacity that psychedelics have to “shut off” a major network in the brain associated with conditions such as depression and anxiety. Commonly referred to as the Default Mode Network, this regular set of neuronal interactions is responsible for functions such as past and future thinking and self reference. The Default Mode Network is absent in infancy and develops over the course of childhood and into early adulthood. In the case of certain mental illnesses, the Default Mode Network becomes ‘entrenched’ in the brain and it can become progressively more difficult for the brain to break out of this network and visit other network spaces in the brain. This is detrimental because the Default Mode Network is only good for certain sorts of tasks, and cognitive flexibility, or the ability to switch between different task relevant brain networks when needed is crucial to well-being and optimal functioning. As anyone with depression can tell you, it is very difficult to solve the multitude of life’s problems exclusively by ruminating on them. The general idea is that psychedelics disrupt entrenched networks of activity, and the corresponding patterns of thought and behaviour that go with them. This allows a person to reconstruct these patterns of thought and behaviour by enabling conditions in the brain where new network pathways can be explored and eventually utilized beyond the psychedelic experiece. Given these results and the additional benefits of needing to take the medication only several times instead of on a daily basis basis – as is needed with more or less all psychiatric medications – it seems uncontroversial to claim that in exploring psychedelics, we are exploring viable and potentially curative medications for mental health. This means that psychedelic medications can fundamentally change the current paradigm of prescribing psychiatric medication, which is beneficial not only to those in need of treatment, but to society as a whole.

The cost of prescription healthcare

In 2011, Stats Canada reported that the second most costly component of healthcare spending was on prescription medications, accounting for 14% of overall spending at around $29 billion dollars. Among youth (ages 16-24), the leading classes of prescription medications were for ADHD, depression, and contraception. Among people age 25-79, antidepressants were the leading prescription medication amongst women, and at 45, usage of antidepressants peaked for both sexes (17% among women and 8% among men). Given the fact that psychedelic medication is required only several times in conjunction with psychotherapy in order to treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, and perhaps other mental illnesses, this could amount to a difference of millions, if not billions of dollars saved annually in the healthcare system. It can also reduce some of the harms associated with some psychiatric medications, such as long term health complications and the possibility of addictions. Benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety disorders, yet are quite addictive and overdoses are not uncommon. Stimulant medications – which are often unquestioningly prescribed to children for ADHD – are also highly addictive and can damage major organs, as well as cause psychotic symptoms if used long term. Most importantly though, we may be able to develop treatments more effective at combatting the personal and social costs associated with the difficulties of mental illness, such as increasing the capacity people have to connect with their communities. Support networks are very important in how mental illness plays out and unfortunately they can be quite difficult to maintain for someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety or psychosis for years on end. At a wider scale, we can reduce the costs associated with people being unable to motivate themselves to work or find work and facilitate a more productive and positive culture. If psychiatry was really accomplishing its goals in treating the suffering and pathologies of the individual, this would be the inevitable end result. However, psychiatry is currently not having these maximally prosocial effects on society. It can only achieve this if the field becomes engaged in caring more about effective treatments than about the arbitrary cautions and conservatism that ground the general apprehension to researching psychedelic compounds. In fact, the methods and medications of psychiatry up until this point are in no small part responsible for prescription drug abuse, and the opioid overdose epidemic involving fentanyl. It’s time to explore alternative options!

Psychedelics and harm reduction

All documented clinical trials so far have shown MDMA, LSD and psilocybin to be safe when administered in a therapeutic setting. While there are certainly risks to consider, they are nowhere near extreme enough to justify the barriers to research that are only now beginning to be dismantled. When weighing the potential risks against the possible benefits, it becomes fairly apparent why it is imperative to focus on psychedelic medicines as a major research project. Some, like Charlotte Walsh, even argue on the grounds of human rights and cognitive liberty that psychedelics should be available to any and all who feel inclined to use them. It is certainly arguable that the regulated availability of psychedelics could have a more positive effect on society than tobacco and alcohol. Incidentally, psilocybin has even been shown to be successful in treating nicotine addiction in a small pilot study, while LSD was identified as being helpful for alcoholism since the very beginning of psychedelic research, back in the 1950s. Recreational psychedelics might therefore be able to prevent the harms associated with the use of alcohol and tobacco and prevent addictions before they manifest. As is often the case when it comes to psychedelic plants, Terence Mckenna said it best:

 “The pro-psychedelic plant position is clearly an anti-drug position. Drug dependencies are the result of habitual, unexamined and obsessive behavior; these are precisely the tendencies in our psychological make-up that the psychedelics mitigate.”

Psychedelics and mental health

Though there have been major advancements in understanding mental health and arriving at evidence-based treatments, there are still many populations for whom we do not have adequate care. This includes victims of sexual assault, veterans, people with addictions, anxiety, and treatment resistant depression. The World Health Organization predicts that depression alone will become the second leading cause of disability in the world by 2020, second only to heart disease. Even though 80% of people treated for depression respond well to treatment, depression is still on par with smoking as a predictor of mortality, so undeniably there is much work to do in arriving at effective treatments. The percentage of Canadians who agreed that they are getting the best treatment for depression is only 28%, with 45% saying that they somewhat agree that they are getting the right treatment. This statistic shows an unsurprising lack of faith in mental health treatments. I would go so far as to say that this lack of faith is quite justified  – until researchers begin to seriously look into psychedelics as a medicine with potential to treat the underlying causes rather than the symptoms of mental illness. As long as researchers are prevented from accessing psychedelic medications through unnecessarily restrictive drug scheduling policies that don’t accurately reflect the nature of these compounds, the government is posing a direct barrier to the well-being of its citizens that is not only unjustified, but directly harmful.

Researching better healthcare

The suppression of research into psychedelic compounds has been compared to the suppression of research into astronomy by the Catholic church after the invention of the telescope. Such a comparison should not be taken lightly. We have at our disposal a profound tool for healing and for scientific inquiry into the mind, and yet there are immense barriers for researchers to access psychedelic plants and compounds; whether they be sheer cost (David Nutt was quoted the equivalent of $1,710 Canadian for a single dose of psilocybin) or the endless bureaucratic requirements needed to deal with a highly controlled substance. While the legalization of cannabis is an important step forward, it’s certainly not the end. However, it can set an important precedent and its legalization can perhaps turn cannabis into a gateway drug of an unexpected kind; a gateway to truly effective healthcare.

Daniel Greig

Daniel Greig

A student of Cognitive Science and Bioethics at the University of Toronto, Daniel researches psychedelic compounds and their implications for mental health treatments, consciousness and the development of wisdom, and organizes events for the Cognitive Science Students Union, the Buddhism and Psychology Union, and CSSDP Toronto. Find out more.

Dispensary Raids and the Role of Civil Disobedience in Human Rights

Dispensary Raids and the Role of Civil Disobedience in Human Rights

Last week, Toronto Police raided 43 dispensaries, arresting over 90 people, and handing out roughly 200 charges in a mass arrest they’re calling “Project Claudia.” While some defend the actions taken by the city’s police, referencing the fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to reform any of the existing laws on cannabis sales, medical cannabis activists have expressed their outrage with the aggressive action. Under the current medical cannabis legislation, Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, storefront marijuana sales are illegal and patients are restricted to ordering their cannabis online from one of 30 licensed producers (LPs). However, many medical cannabis patients prefer to support their local dispensaries which is what has allowed a reported 126 stores to thrive.

Many activists argue that revoking access to storefront dispensaries will not direct more people towards legal cannabis, but rather that it will only drive more traffic to street dealers who sell to anyone in public spaces, regardless of age or prescription, and without any of the educational resources that the dispensaries provide. These dispensaries also offer a variety of other medical cannabis products (such as topicals, extracts, tinctures, edibles, etc.) that provide relief for an array of different conditions and cannot be accessed through LPs.

Following the raids, dispensary supporters rallied together, organizing protests as well as a march from the Toronto Police Headquarters to City Hall during the press conference held by the Toronto Police on the incident. The raids have been compared to operation SOAP, the only police action in Toronto that equates with the wide scope of Project Claudia. This attack on the Canadian LGBTQ+ community targeted bathhouses and led to the arrests of almost 300 gay men and over $35,000 in damages. This sparked outrage within the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, and they organized protests and street demonstrations that eventually became Pride Week as we know it today. In accordance with this comparison, today, June 1st, literally marks the launch of Pride Month in Toronto; happy pride!

Canada is often hailed as a progressive country, but it’s important to remember the challenges and injustices that have led to such progressive change. There was a time before women had the right to vote, before gay people had the right to get married, and there are STILL areas of Canada and aboriginal territories in which indigenous people barely have the same rights and protections as the rest of the country. Morality is not synonymous with legality and unjust laws are an undeniable global reality; Canada is no exception. That isn’t to say we aren’t progressive; for example, in Canada’s official statement at UNGASS last month, our Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, denounced reefer madness and acknowledged the harms caused by prohibition. Yet they’re still allowing these admittedly unjust laws to justify police locking nonviolent offenders and harassing sick people. An approach that is quite clearly increasing the harms of being a user of the cannabis plant.

We wouldn’t have the progressive human rights we have here today if we didn’t protest, rally, and fight for them, further progress won’t be made without more of the same. If it wasn’t for a little bit of civil disobedience here and there, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Looking to our neighbours in the south, some states seem to be going backwards and further stripping people of their rights – transgender people in particular – with these exclusionary bathroom laws. The only real way to avoid repeating these violations of fundamental human rights is to make sure we remember the mistakes of the past and learn from them

As part of an organization that focuses on policy and as someone with an interest in business, I understand the importance of public policy. But there comes a point where laws are not protecting people, but rather serve as  tools for their oppression. This is the fundamental problem with the war on drugs. I’m not defending the fact that these dispensaries are totally unregulated, evading taxes, nor am I denying that some of these dispensaries may be linked to crime; but to be fair there was a shawarma shop in my hometown that got nabbed smuggling guns and cocaine and I don’t villainize hummus because of it. Most of these issues are a direct result of prohibition. A flourishing underground criminal market and the further stigmatization of an industry with huge medical, environmental, nutritional, and economic potential is working against the best interests of the law, government, and society as a whole.

I’m excited to see what the task force tackling cannabis regulation will do, but these arrests bring up a scary reality. Government lobbying is common practice in politics and a lot of people are fighting over access to this industry, primarily the more powerful licensed producers and the dispensary owners (many of whom have been at the forefront of cannabis rights activism.) These raids send a message that our government thinks dispensaries cause more problems than they solve and that they shouldn’t have a role in establishing the new regulatory model for cannabis production and sales. I disagree. The real danger lies in regulating cannabis too strictly, and creating an oligopoly instead of creating jobs. If independent growers can not enter the regulated and legitimized cannabis market, there will be no incentive or platform for them to move away from the black market. There are so many potential jobs at stake and so much money to be put back into the economy, but in order for that to happen we need to make sure the industry is accessible; especially by the people who fought for it. People who have been victims of prohibition deserve access to the benefits legalization will bring.

Heather D'Alessio

Heather D'Alessio

An Algonquin College business student focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, Heather is fascinated by corporate social responsibility within the cannabis industry, with a passion for the relationship between food, health, and sustainability, and is an advocate for drug policy based on human rights and public health. Find out more.

Légalisation du cannabis: la lumière au bout du tunnel?

Légalisation du cannabis: la lumière au bout du tunnel?

Au fil des quatre dernières décénies, nombre de politiciens ont martelé un discours pronant que la prohibition tiendrait les drogues loin de la portée des jeunes. Cependant, comme nous avons pu l’observer, la situation inverse s’est produite et les taux d’usage de substances illicites sont plus hauts que jamais. Les jeunes canadiens dominent actuellement les palmares de consommation du cannabis au sein des régions développées. Il est enthousiasmant de voir que le Canada sera une figure de proue en introduisant une législation légalisant l’usage récréatif de cannabis au printemps 2017. La question est maintenant de savoir comment ce changement sera concrètement effectué. La contribution de la jeunesse sera utile dans la définition de cette législation, et nous pensons que notre voix doit être prise en considération sur le plan politique.

Au Canada, la prohibition a mené à créer des situations bien plus préjudiciables pour les jeunes qu’avant toute forme de régulation. Le sujet doit également être abordé de manière globale, puisque les risques qui en découlent sont multiples et variés. De telles politiques drastiques de tolérance zéro, tentant de réduire l’offre et la demande de substances, n’ont réduit ni l’accès, ni la consommation desdites substances. De plus, les conséquences qui découlent de ces politiques dépendent des caractéristiques individuelles des personnes touchées. On pense notamment à l’âge, au sexe, aux caractéristiques socio-économiques ou encore aux caractéristiques géographiques des individus. La prohibition a détruit des familles en criminalisant les jeunes et ont subséquemment limité les opportunités d’emploi de ces jeunes. Ces derniers ont également du faire face à des barrières dans l’accès au cannabis médical, se faisant parfois accuser d’essayer de contourner le système. La prohibition a également généré  la prolifération d’informations éronnées sur les drogues, ce qui a conséquemment mené à des usages risqués, et freiné voire empêché l’accès aux services sociaux lorsque nécessaires. De plus, la prohibition a forcé les utilisateurs à se procurer du cannabis issu du marché noir et à se tourner vers de nouvelles substances parfois inconnues et dangereuses, comme les cannabinoïdes synthétiques ou “spice”.

Avoir accès à de l’information sur les drogues n’encourage pas l’usage, mais permet de réduire les risques liés à la consommation. La sentence est tombée pour les programmes comme “Just Say No” des années 80, et le programme D.A.R.E des années 90, qui ont été au mieux inefficaces. Par conséquent, CSSDP demande la mise en place d’une nouvelle approche qui met l’emphase sur la santé publique. Il faut appliquer des stratégies coordonnées et multisectorielles (CAMH, 2014). Nous ne nions pas que la seule façon d’éviter tout risque est de ne pas consommer de cannabis, mais nous devons respecter les choix individuels et nous faire à l’idée que la consommation de substances psychoactives existera toujours. Nous aimerions conséquemment voir un véritable engagement envers des politiques de prévention réalistes autour du cannabis, afin de remplacer les discours uniquement basés sur l’abstinence et sur la peur que bon nombre d’entre nous avons reçus à l’école. La Colombie Britannique est la première province à introduire dans son curriculum un programme qui met l’emphase sur la réduction des méfaits ; plutot que d’enseigner aux jeunes à craindre les drogues, le programme vise à enseigner comment fonctionner dans une société où les drogues sont utilisées. Nous militons pour la mise en place d’un programme national similaire au programme Iminds de Colombie Britannique, qui soit basé sur des faits et non sur une idéologie. Les années qui suivront la légalisation seront très importantes afin d’informer le public sur les manières de réduire les méfaits liés à l’usage du cannabis, et en tant que jeunes ayant grandi avec la prohibition, nous pouvons offrir de préciseuses indications.

Nous devons créer de nouvelles normes sociales autour de l’usage légal et responsable du cannabis. Il sera important de s’assurer de ne pas reproduire la même “culture d’utilisation” que celle que nous avons actuellement avec l’alcool, et qui devient de plus en plus hors de contrôle (Fallu, 2016). Nous savons que ce qui fonctionne est d’ouvrir une discussion constructive et productive, qui prend en considération l’expérimentation de substances et qui fourni des informations et outils afin d’aider les jeunes à gérer leur consommation peu importe les substances qu’ils rencontrent.

Il est également important que la prochaine réforme prenne en considération les groupes particulièrement à risque. Par exemple, certaines preuves suggèrent que le cannabis pourrait contribuer au déclenchement précoce de problématiques de schizophrénie chez les individus ayant une prédisposition au développement de cette problématique. La recherche doit être maintenue, encadrée, et prise en considération. La question de la prescription médicale doit également être mise de l’avant. Indépendemment de l’âge légal de consommation du cannabis, les parents devraient être en mesure de prendre la décision concernant l’usage du cannabis médical pour leurs enfants, s’ils considèrent que la substance pourrait leur être utile. Par conséquent, des aspects comme la production, la vente et la publicité autour de la substance devront être strictement réglementés.

Bien que sachant que certaines études ont démontré des effets délétaires du cannabis pour le cerveau chez les jeunes de moins de 25 ans, nous pensons qu’il s’agit d’un âge trop tardif comme critère d’accéssibilité dans la légalisation du cannabis. Si nous prenons en considération que la majorité des personnes qui expérimentent le cannabis ont entre 15 et 25 ans, il sera important de considérer cette donnée démographique dans la légalisation du produit. L’âge légal devrait être le reflet de la capacité individuelle à prendre des décisions informées plutôt que de se baser sur l’évaluation de la relative sécurité de consommation. Néanmoins, la commission Le Dain s’est quant à elle pronnoncée sur l’établissement de l’âge légal à 16 and. Il peut être utile d’explorer les options d’un âge légal plus bas afin d’éviter la continuité d’existence de marchés souterrains et des risques qui y sont associés pour les jeunes n’ayant pas atteint leur majorité.

Nous nous positionnons avec bon nombre d’organisations et de personnes afin de demander la cessation immédiate des arrestations pour possession de cannabis. Comment le gouvernement peut il continuer à regarder de telles lois draconniennes continuer à ruiner les chances de jeunes et limites leurs opportunités, quand le Premier Ministre s’est lui-même positionné pour dire que les lois en vigueur sont plus préjudiciables que la substance elle-même, sans parler de sa propre consommation dans les précédentes années. Au Canada, plus de 22 000 inculpation pour possession de cannabis ont été portées en 2014, une statistique déclarées choquante par le Secrétaire du Parlement Mr Bill Blair. Par ailleurs, les lois en vigueur affectent disproportionnellement les groupes minoritaires et il est fort possible que dans la prochaine année, avant que la nouvelle législation entre en vigueur, un certain nombre de jeunes reçoivent un casier judiciaire pour possession de cannabis. Selon Statistiques Canada, 24% des personnes accusées pour des crimes reliés au cannabis sont des jeunes. Nous ne pouvons laisser à la discretion des tribunaux de décider si oui ou non d’autres jeunes devront vivre avec les impacts d’un casier judiciaire. Nous comprenons que le chemin sera difficile pour le gouvernement en ce qui concerne la légalisation, mais nous l’exhortons de mettre en place un moratoire sur les arrestation pendant le temps de sa réflexion.  Si une modification au Code Criminel ne peut se faire en un claquement de doigts, nous prions instamment le gouverment de demander à la GRC de déprioriser la section de la Loi réglementant les drogues et autres substances qui traite de la possession simple de cannabis.

La légalisation du cannabis serait une façon de concevoir le tunnel, et oui, il existe bien une lumière. Mais ne nous enthousiasmons pas trop vite, parce que le tunnel pourrait être plus long que nous ne l’avions cru au départ. C’est une discussion beaucoup plus globale que nous devons, et allons entamer. La question de la légalisation en est une avant tout de droits humains et de bien-être. Nous allons ouvrir de nombreuses portes menant à des discussions que nous avons refoulées ou simplifiées depuis les dernières décénies.

Nous sommes conscient que la solution exacte en terme de politique ne sera pas mise en place au printemps 2017. Il faudra effectuer beaucoup de suivi, et réaliser des réajustements au fil du temps. Nous pouvons d’ores et déjà prendre exemple sur les apprentissages tirés de la régulation de l’alcool et du tabac. Nous ne devons cependant pas limiter notre processus réflexif à ces deux modèles puisque le cannabis est une substance différente qui est déjà entourrée de sa propre “culture”.

Nous avons entendu beaucoup de discours parler de “protéger la jeunesse” au fil des dernières décénies. Pourtant, nous ne sommes pas convaincus que les gouvernements souhaitent réellement écouter ce que les jeunes ont à dire. Par exemple, lors de la récente Session Spéciale des Nations Unies sur la drogue cette année à New York, nos délégués ont pu faire l’expérience de cette déconnexion. Un certain nombre de représentants de CSSDP se sont vu refuser l’accès à un des panels, bien qu’ils disposent de laissez-passer adéquats, et que la salle dans laquelle se déroule le panel soit relativement vide. Ironiquement, ce panel s’intitulait “ écouter les besoins des enfants et des jeunes est la première étape pour les aider à grandir en santé et en sécurité” (traduction libre), et malgré avoir fait tout ce qui était nécessaire pour y assister, nous nous sommes vu bloquer l’accès à la session. Par ailleurs, notre représentant des élèves au secondaire a rapporté s’être fait vérifier deux à trois fois ses laissez-passer par la sécurité alors qu’il lui paraissait que les adultes autour de lui n’avaient pas à se plier à un tel traitement. Nous devons faire en sorte d’inclure la participation des jeunes de manière significative à l’intérieur de la progression de la légalisation. Nous aimerions voir la voix de la jeunesse représentée et souhaiterions soumettre des recommandations en conséquence. Nous sommes les héritiers du monde de demain, alors laissez-nous au moins le façonner.

Amelie Roulet

Amelie Roulet

Co-Chair

A soon-to-be social worker finishing her degree at Université de Montréal, Amelie volunteers with GRIP Montréal on their drug checking project, and is founding member and chapter leader at ECPESP Université de Montréal, CSSDP’s first francophone chapter. Find out more.

Michelle Theissen

Michelle Theissen

Treasurer

An Honours graduate with a Psychology B.A. from the University of British Columbia, Michelle will begin her Masters in Clinical Psychology in fall 2016, continuing her research examining the motivations and outcomes of recreational and therapeutic use of cannabis and psychedelics. Find out more.

CSSDP relies on our donors to operate and create change on local, national and international levels. Please consider donating, or get involved by starting or joining a chapter near you!

Cannabis Legalization: Light at the end of the tunnel?

Cannabis Legalization: Light at the end of the tunnel?

For the past four decades, politicians have argued that prohibitionist policies will keep drugs out of the hands of youth. As we’ve seen, the opposite has occurred and rates of drug use are higher than they used to be. Canadian youth lead the developed world in rates of cannabis consumption. It is exciting that Canada will also be leading the world in introducing legislation legalizing the recreational use of cannabis in the spring of 2017. The key question now is how this will be done. Input from youth will be valuable to help shape this legislation and we believe our voice should be considered at the policy level.

In Canada, prohibition has led to creating a much more injurious situation for youth than before any kind of regulation. It needs to be approached comprehensively since related harms are extensive. Such harsh zero tolerance policies, trying to reduce offering and demand of substances didn’t reduce access to the substance nor its usage. And the linked consequences vary depending on one’s individual characteristics such as age, sex, socio-economic status, and geographical position. Prohibition has destroyed families by criminalizing cannabis users and subsequently limiting youth employment and travel opportunities. Youth have also faced barriers to access for medical cannabis, often being accused of trying to beat the system. Prohibition has generated inaccurate drug information, that has itself lead to riskier use, and hampered access to social services. In addition, prohibition has forced users to pursue black market cannabis and switch to new, unknown and hazardous psychotropic substances, such as the synthetic cannabinoid Spice.

Drug information does not encourage consumption but rather it reduces the harm associated with use. The jury is in on drug education programs such as the “Just Say No” campaign of the 80s and the D.A.R.E program of the 90s both of which were at best ineffective. Therefore, CSSDP is asking for a new approach that emphasizes public health. Coordinated and multisectoral strategies are needed (CAMH, 2014). We do not deny that the only way to avoid all harm is to not use cannabis, but we have to respect one’s choices, and face the fact that there will always be substance use. We would therefore like to see a commitment to realistic drug education around cannabis to replace the “abstinence only”, fear based education many of us received in school. British Columbia is the first province to introduce curriculum that emphasizes harm reduction; rather than teaching youth to fear drugs, the program aims at teaching youth how to function in a society where drugs are being used. We are advocating for a National program, similar to the iMinds curriculum in B.C., that is based in evidence not ideology. The years following legalization will be very important in educating the public about ways to decrease the harms associated with cannabis and as youth who have grown up during prohibition we believe we can offer valuable insight.

We need to create new social norms around legal and responsible cannabis usage. It will be important to focus on not having the same “culture of use” that we are currently having with alcohol and that is more and more getting out of control (Jean-Sébastien Fallu 2016). For a productive and meaningful conversation, acknowledging experimentation and providing information and tools to help them manage any substance encounters is what works.

It is also important that the upcoming regulations acknowledge groups that are more at risk. For example, there is some evidence that suggests cannabis may contribute to an earlier onset of psychosis and schizophrenia in individuals predisposed to such illnesses. Research needs to be pursued, framed, and taken into consideration. The question of medical prescription also needs to be brought up. Regardless of legal age, parents should be able to make decisions regarding the use of medical cannabis for their children if they consider the substance to be helpful for them. Therefore, aspects like production, sale and advertisement, of the substance will have to be strictly regulated.

Despite knowing that some studies have shown cannabis to be harmful to the brains of youth under the age of 25, we feel that is too late. If you take into consideration that a majority of cannabis users begin use between the ages of 15 and 25 it will be important to capture that demographic in legalization. The legal age should reflect the ability of an individual to make an informed decision rather than evaluating the relative safety of use. The Le Dain Commission recommended the legal age for cannabis consumption be 16. Setting a lower age limit may help prevent the continuation of an underground cannabis market and reduce the associated harms on youth.

We stand with a number of organizations and individuals in calling for an immediate end to arrests for cannabis possession. How can the government watch as the draconian laws continue to ruin young people’s chances and limit their opportunities all while the Prime Minister himself states that the laws are more harmful than the substance itself, not to mention his own use of cannabis in recent years. In Canada, over 22,000 cannabis possession charges were laid in 2014, a statistic the Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair referred to as ‘shocking’. Furthermore, the current laws disproportionately affect minority groups and it is likely that in the next year, before the new legislation is introduced, a number of youth will receive criminal records for cannabis possession. According to Statistics Canada, 24% of those accused of cannabis crimes are youth. We can not leave it up to the discretion of the courts to decide whether or not another youth will live with the barriers a criminal record brings. We understand the government has a difficult road ahead in terms of legalization but we urge them to place a moratorium on arrests while they navigate legalization. If changing the criminal code can not be done in a timely manner, we urge the government to tell the RCMP to deprioritize the section of Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that deals with the personal possession of cannabis.

We are not naive to the difficulties that arise from being one of the first countries to legalize cannabis. This move is going to generate both international praise and condemnation. However legalization is an issue of human rights and well-being. We are aware that the right solution in terms of policy will not be up for spring 2017. It will need a close follow-up, and take readjustments over the time. We can already take examples on what we have learned from tobacco and alcohol. But we must not limit our réflexive process to these two substances since cannabis is a different substance and already has it’s own culture.

We have heard a lot about “protecting youth” in drug policy discourse over the past few decades. Yet we are less convinced that governments actually want to listen to what young people have to say. For example, at UNGASS this year in New York City, our delegates experienced this disconnect. A number of CSSDP representatives were denied access to a panel even though they had the appropriate grounds passes and the room where the panel was occurring was relatively empty. Ironically this panel was titled “Listening to the needs of children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe” and regardless of doing all that was necessary to attend the session, we were instead blocked from it. Furthermore, our high school representative reported that security scrutinized his UN grounds pass, while he felt the adults around him were not subjected to the same treatment. We need to ensure that we include youth input in a meaningful way as legalization unfolds. We would like to see a youth voice be represented and are looking to submit recommendations accordingly. We are inheriting the world of tomorrow,  let us help shape it.

Michelle Theissen

Michelle Theissen

Treasurer

An Honours graduate with a Psychology B.A. from the University of British Columbia, Michelle will begin her Masters in Clinical Psychology in fall 2016, continuing her research examining the motivations and outcomes of recreational and therapeutic use of cannabis and psychedelics. Find out more.

Amelie Roulet

Amelie Roulet

Co-Chair

A soon-to-be social worker finishing her degree at Université de Montréal, Amelie volunteers with GRIP Montréal on their drug checking project, and is founding member and chapter leader at ECPESP Université de Montréal, CSSDP’s first francophone chapter. Find out more.

CSSDP relies on our donors to operate and create change on local, national and international levels. Please consider donating, or get involved by starting or joining a chapter near you!

On legalization: Tara Marie Watson from CAMH

On legalization: Tara Marie Watson from CAMH

Tara Marie Watson holds a PhD in Criminology from the University of Toronto and is currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), specializing in drug use and harm reduction studies. Tara Marie also served as the graduate student representative for the Collaborative Program in Addiction Studies (CoPAS) for several years. Her dissertation examined substance abuse policy and related practices within Canadian federal prisons. Tara Marie has both longstanding interests in evidence-based drug policy and correctional populations, and research experience related to public health programming for people who use drugs.

How do you think Canada should implement Cannabis legislation?

The Liberal win over the Conservatives in the last federal election came at an important time for Canada to redefine its approach to drugs. The Liberal government has voiced strong support for cannabis legalization and a move towards a regulatory scheme that would mean people being able to have access for recreational use, as we have medical marijuana access in Canada. There are different models for regulating drug supply and access. For example, under medical marijuana programs you have a prescription model in place. Another way in which you can regulate drugs is through pharmacy sales. In a nutshell, there are various ways in regulating cannabis for recreational use. I don’t know what model will necessarily be implemented because that will be a long process, I think that process should be informed by evidence as well as looking at what other jurisdictions are doing, jurisdictions like the state of Colorado, that have legalized recreational cannabis sales, a country like Uruguay has done the same. There needs to be a lot of consultation with pharmacists, and the people who use, to formulate a path that’s going to be feasible.

Do you think the average Canadian citizen should be allowed to grow their own cannabis?

I think that’s very likely, for example, with medical marijuana there are regulations in place for people being allowed to grow their own at home. It varies, in Colorado there are restrictions on how many plants people can grow at home for their own cannabis consumption. There is variation how that particular issue could be addressed. I think it’s entirely possible in the future in allowing people to grow cannabis at home.

What are your thoughts on youth having access to medical marijuana?

Many people have this fear, including our former Health Minister, who has been vocal in her opposition of legalization. Many people have a fear that with the legalization of cannabis and recreational use is going to mean a sudden surge of young people accessing cannabis. Some of those fears are a bit unfounded. The war of drugs regime hasn’t stopped young people from having access to cannabis. In fact, there is empirical literature that has found young people readily having access to marijuana – the Monitoring the Future study conducted in the United States has found that cannabis is something that’s fairly accessible if you are interested in getting it or know where to go. In terms of keeping it out of reach of children and youth, I think there are important reasons why we would have regulations to try and prevent young people from being able to access cannabis readily. There is literature to suggest that cannabis use might have certain negative impacts on the developing brain and some linkages to certain mental health conditions. So I think there’s a real reason why we might want to implement policies that would restrict the sale to underage people and that’s something in place in certain countries.

How would you suggest a change in public perception about cannabis use?

Mass awareness campaigns can be one tool in terms of educating the public on cannabis use on what a regulatory scheme might look like. There needs to be a lot of discussions that are evidence-based and very realistic and honest about what we know about cannabis use and what legalization might look like. I think that’s very important, in comparison to a campaign launched by Health Canada, they put out some ads that were very anti-drugs, and scary in their tone. I think going that route was more of a fear-mongering campaign. Grassroots organizations, NGOs, a wide variety of stakeholders need to get involved in credible, evidence-based, honest education – awareness campaigns about cannabis.

How could harm reduction approaches be used in cannabis consumption?

Harm Reduction is an approach that has been around for several decades, it has a number of important principles including programming for people who use substances are safe, evidence-based, that they meet the dignity of people who use drugs. That programs and policies in place are along a continuum, to try and address people who use substance use and people’s level of readiness in terms of people using drugs in a safer way. A first step is the full decriminalization and then regulation of cannabis for recreational use. One of the greatest harms of substance use under punitive drug laws is punishing people for possession and purchase of drugs, that is a process that needs to happen immediately. Other harm reduction based approaches that can be implemented can include having honest education campaigns developed specifically, on populations that use cannabis. I think it would be valuable to have some tailored to young people, I think that there needs to be that incorporated to programs that try to help people use cannabis safely, there needs to be acknowledgment of cannabis use with alcohol use and with other drugs. Cannabis use on it’s own is often not linked to too many harmful effects but often times people do use cannabis in conjunction with substances and harm from that needs to be clearly laid out. I think there’s definitely room to talk about harm reduction in the context of driving, under the influence of cannabis. Certainly, opponents raise the issue of traffic safety and concerns regarding a sudden increase in people impaired by cannabis driving on roads. I think there needs to be a lot more research done and again, more awareness campaigns so that people know that you can smoke cannabis products in safer ways.

What are your hopes regarding cannabis legalization in Canada’s future?

My hope is that sooner rather than later we will see a whole cannabis regulation scheme in place for cannabis that people will no longer be prosecuted for possession and purchase for personal cannabis use. I hope that the liberal government upholds its promises to have a massive consultation with stakeholders to make this happen. Also, cannabis regulation will spur eventually, dialogue about having other drugs be decriminalized in Canada. In the broader scheme of things, we really need to form a Public Health model in terms of how we address substance use in Canada. That means taking away the issue of law enforcement and the criminal justice system and putting it in the hands of health & social services that have a much deeper understanding of substance use and the reasons why people use a variety of drugs and how they might be able to use in a way that’s safer. There also needs to be a stronger recognition in Canada that drug use exists on a continuum from cannabis to more serious use that is often preceded by experiences or histories of trauma, poverty. If there’s more explicit recognition of more of those broader social issues and how they relate more Canadians will be open to legalization, be open to harm reduction and I think that’s really the way forward.

Martha Segovia

Martha Segovia

Volunteer

Martha is a Social Service Worker graduate, Bachelor of Social Work undergraduate from York University. As a volunteer in the Outreach Committee and volunteer at Egale Youth OUTreach in Toronto, she is committed and passionate about drug policy through action and engagement towards a progressive culture.
On legalization: Craig Jones of NORML Canada

On legalization: Craig Jones of NORML Canada

Craig Jones holds a political economy doctorate from Queen’s University. He maintains a large library of evidence and research on the global prohibition of cannabis and has published, taught and lectured on drug and criminal justice policy since the late 1990s. Before joining NORML Canada, a non-profit committed to eliminating civil and criminal penalties for private marijuana use through government lobbying, public education, and research, he was Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada and a Health Sciences policy analyst at Queen’s University.

As the Executive Director of NORML Canada, in what way is your job related to drug policy?

The organization has been around since the mid-1970s, following the publication and quiet death of the Le Dain Commission reports, which called for “rolling back” the criminal justice system in regards to drugs.

One of the key statements, to my mind, is that the criminal justice system tends to make worse what is already problematic when it comes to changing personal behaviour of individuals, particularly when that behaviour is essentially self-consensual.

So the Le Dain Commission died a quiet death with the ramping-up of the US-based ‘war on drugs,’ and NORML came along to try to encourage governments to adopt recommendations that echoed the Le Dain Commission report because there was a similar report from the United States at the same time that came, essentially, to the same conclusion. The general agreement among the experts was that if the major government pursued a strategy of prohibition, it would essentially replicate the prohibition of alcohol, resulting in organized crime and all the misery and suffering that we have seen ever since. That is the origin of NORML Canada. Our bottom-line is not pro-cannabis, it is not anti-cannabis; we favour what I call the ‘modernization’ of cannabis drug policies, bringing them into compliance with the best evidence and the best practices on how to manage psychotropic substances. And, because cannabis is overwhelmingly the most commonly used illicit drug, taking cannabis off the table makes a huge difference to the impact of the war on drugs.

What does ‘sensible drug policy’ look like to you?

Number one, you have to know something about the history of how drugs came to be illegal in this country. I presume you know that the origin of cannabis drug policy was racist in intent and purpose, and that racist, punitive template persists to this day. So, sensible drug policy looks like drug policy based on public health rather than criminal justice principles.

What are your thoughts on the UNGASS “World Drug Problem” meeting this April?

Until quite recently, there has not been a lot of reason to feel optimistic about UNGASS, because UNGASS has been the institutional ‘motor,’ on a global scale, of the war on drugs, largely buttressed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the White House. Washington, DC, has been, until quite recently, the home address of the global war on drugs. That has begun to change for a variety of reasons. There is some reason to be slightly more optimistic [about UNGASS] today.

You must have seen in the newspaper recently the Canadian delegation received a standing ovation from the delegates of the pre-UNGASS meetings for their call for harm-reduction, and public health principles in drug policy. There are meetings happening in New York now, in the lead-up to UNGASS, and the Canadian delegation got up and delivered a talk calling for harm reduction, trumpeting the success of Insite in Vancouver, and before they were finished delivering their address, apparently, the other delegates were on their feet applauding the Canadian position.

There have been a number of changes to the global situation, for example, Uruguay, Portugal, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, DC, and the success of the war on drugs. This is to say nothing of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which came out with a very strong statement a couple of years ago, pointing out that the war on drugs has produced unintended consequences worse than the use of drugs themselves. I think there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that we may be in the early days of the end of the war on drugs.

If the United States election returns Republican, it’s quite possible that the progress in the United States could be reversed. At this moment, I think it is quite possible that Barack Obama’s legacy will be that he began the process, but it’s going to be a long process to end the war on drugs. But if a Republican takes the White House, it can go 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

How do you think Canada should implement cannabis legalization?

NORML Canada does not speak with one voice on this issue; there are people in the organization who prefer a more libertarian, market-based solution, and there are people in the organization who prefer a more public regime. The people on the libertarian-right argue, with justice, that cannabis prohibition was an error in 1923, and that all we have to do is return to the pre-prohibition era of 1922 and let the market work out according to its own logic about what the regime should be. The people on the public health-left argue that we have a great deal of experience [with] regulating psychotropic substances, principally alcohol and tobacco, and that we should poach the best lessons from the regulation of alcohol and tobacco for the regulation of cannabis. Those are the two positions that have a voice. There’s not much more to add to that, as it really comes down to that polarity: public health versus free-market.

In light of the Liberal’s plan to legalize marijuana in Canada, it is being suggested that the legal purchasing age should be 24-25, rather than 19 like the alcohol and tobacco purchasing age in most provinces. Do you think that setting a higher marijuana purchasing age is an effective strategy for preventing or discouraging use by youth?

I think it is impossible to enforce, number one. Number two, it does not make any sense to raise the legal age limit to 24 or 25 if the legal age for alcohol is 19, or 18 in Quebec, because alcohol is by far the more dangerous substance, and everybody acknowledges that. Even critics acknowledge that alcohol is a more dangerous substance. As a practical matter, it would be impossible to enforce, and the same is true of limiting or prohibiting home growing. If you want to limit home growing, or prohibit it, you have to account for the policy costs of enforcing that, and those are going to be very, very steep. Governments should not, in my opinion, take on or advocate for policies [in which] the costs of enforcing are unreasonably high. The policy costs of enforcing against home production would basically replicate the costs of prohibition, and I think it would be unreasonably intrusive, and just extremely expensive, to be busting people for growing a half-dozen plants. Furthermore, I think we already have the regulatory regimes in place on the municipal and provincial levels to create a safe environment for people to grow at home.

If you are really serious about preventing people from making their own wine, you are going to have to set up a massive police bureaucracy to go house-to-house and shut down individual wine production.

Beyond Cannabis

Beyond Cannabis

Not Just About Cannabis Reform – It’s about Changing the World

Alexander Betsos

For ten years we have lived under Stephen Harper and his abhorrent approach to dealing with drug related issues. For the first time in 10 years the Liberals have Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy have watched with awe, and a bit of fear, as you expressed your positions on drug reform. We also created a ‘report card’ for youth, scoring each of the parties on their approach to drug policy, highlighting that the Liberal’s progressive approach to a legal, regulated cannabis was an impressive step in the right direction. Now that the Liberals have won, it is time to address the wide variety of social problems that have been neglected.

But cannabis reform is not enough. As the famous neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart once said, “It’s not about cannabis reform; it’s about changing the world.” The previous Canadian governments positions on drugs put a lot of people’s lives at risk, and now its time to change it.

Prime Minister Trudeau, you have positioned yourself as the voice of reason, the one who will respond to the science of the day, and bring in key stakeholders, NGO’s and others into the conversation. While you have accepted that the science of cannabis means it is not “infinitely worse” than tobacco, and recognized that illegal markets for cannabis only provide easier access to youth. However, you have not acknowledged the science demonstrating that the drug war is a war on the people both waged inside our country and outside. As young people in Canada know all too well, possession and trafficking charges are detrimental to future successes, even after being expunged, can have lasting effects on our ability to find meaningful work.

Secondly, we can see from research in psychology and sociology that addiction is connected to larger social problems, as broken down by Johann Hari. The basic premise is that those who used substances in ways that tend to be dangerous are missing the social bonding and solidarity of their communities. On top of that, most people do not end up needing to seek treatment for drug or alcohol use. By continuing to have substance use carry penalties, we endanger the long term growth of a lot of individuals who will now not be eligible for a lot of social services.

To this end, we urge you to also consider repealing Bill C-2. By doing so, we can actually begin to help the people who need it most. Bill C-2 was a bill designed to stop another supervised safe injection site, such as Insite in Vancouver, from being created in Canada. Canada’s work in this field, supported by over 60 peer reviewed studies, has been lauded by the international community. However, in more recent years, ideological distaste, rather than pragmatism and science have limited access to safe injection sites in cities outside of Vancouver, creating unequal access for all Canadians to this life saving service.

Coupled with Health Canada’s choice to violate research ethics, and take away access to hydromorphone, which is an opiate similar to heroin but not but not completely illegal in the same way heroin is. The National study SALOME was conducted in order to help people get off of heroin and put their lives back together. By being given access to hydromorphone the participants in the study were able to put their lives back together, something that was torn away from them when they were not allowed to continue to receive hydromorphone. As a student currently looking to do graduate work in the future, I have been taught that as researchers, we have an ethical responsibility when we work with at risk populations to minimize any risks to their safety and wellbeing, and hopefully even make their lives better. By removing the access these people had to hydromorphone, we have violated their rights as research participants, and frankly, as human beings.

Speaking of human rights, the UN, has just argued that criminalizing substance users is a violation of their human rights. The Deputy High Commissioner for UN Human Rights has argued that drugs should be decriminalized “because criminalization of possession and use has been shown to cause significant obstacles to the right to health.” Now with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also promoting decriminalization, although they have been muffled, it seems clearer than ever that Real Change can only occur if we accept the current scientific and ethical concerns involved in our failed war on the people who consume substances. With people dying annually in countries which manufacture the drugs, real change seems to be one that would lead to a Just Society for those who need it most. I believe we can work towards these sensible policies together.

Justin Trudeau, you have said you support harm reduction. This is welcome news, because we need your help. The people who died at Veld Music Festival need your help, the people dying from fentanyl need your help. There are models that already exist; as we have tried to work under the radar for fear of a conservative clampdown on NGO’s. For the children of this generation, and the next; we need to talk.

We just need to be part of the conversation.

Extract Trial Update

Extract Trial Update

Patients Weigh in on the Extract Trial

Kelly Pflug-Back 

On June 11th 2015, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of legalizing medical cannabis in all forms. The ruling was unanimous, meaning that all seven judges on the panel agreed with this decision. Previously, laws allowed medical cannabis patients to legally access dried cannabis only, while excluding all other forms such as extracts and derivatives like tinctures and edibles. This ruling was effective immediately, and expanded the definition of “medical marijuana” to include all forms of the substance, rather than limiting it to the dried plant. The SCC found the previous restriction to be arbitrary, potentially harmful to patients’ health, and therefore not in line with the rights to life, liberty, and security of person as outlined in Canada’s charter. This ruling rendered sections 4 and 5 of the Controlled Drug and Substances Acts (which prohibit the possession and selling of non-dried forms of cannabis) to be null and void.

For people who live with chronic and severe nausea, pain, seizures, and other health issues commonly relieved by cannabis, being able to leave the house, run errands, work, socialize, and attend public events is often contingent on being able to consume medication when and where they need to. Using cannabis as a medicine has historically left patients feeling stigmatized, is often associated with criminality, and is not generally practical in enclosed indoor areas such as workplaces, classrooms, and restaurants. Where chronic illness and disability often comes with its own stigma and social isolation, the restriction to consuming cannabis by smoking created further barriers, such as limiting social events and interaction in places where medicating could come with unwanted attention or misunderstanding. These issues also spill into other areas of a medical cannabis patient’s life, such as housing. For people on short-term leases, landlords can use the smell of cannabis smoke as grounds for eviction, even if the tenant has a prescription. If a tenant chooses to appeal the eviction (something which requires substantial time and energy) they may already have lost their lease by the time the case is heard.

According to Sarah,* a long-time cannabis patient and advocate who lives with a severe seizure disorder, smoking also presents a problem because the smell lingers on hair and clothing. “The smell marks me and gives people in a professional setting information that is not their business,” Sarah said. Extracts, in comparison, are discreet. Sarah said that tinctures are her preferred medium, since they are not only portable but also easy to consume at any time and can be made without sugar, calories, or additives.

Many people who use medical cannabis also feel that smoking the dried plant is an inefficient or undesirable way of getting relief from their symptoms. In an interview with CBC, Owen Smith (the case’s appellant) pointed out that it is unheard of for patients to be required to smoke any other medication, since it is generally agreed upon that smoking is a harsh way of consuming any substance. Other ways of consuming cannabis can offer higher bioavailability, and/or produce a more slow-acting result- which, for many patients, can mean the difference between a good night’s sleep and being woken up intermittently by pain or other symptoms.

The ruling may also make a considerable economic difference for many patients. Aside from the fact that medical cannabis does not have a Drug Identification Number, and thus excludes patients from receiving coverage, smoking dried cannabis is very costly compared to other forms of the medicine. For patients like Sarah, who need high doses for effective management of symptoms (her prescription often runs up to half a pound per month, and she can experience frequent seizures if she consumes less) relief can often be unaffordable. In the U.S., there have been efforts at a municipal level to subsidize medical cannabis due to the fact people with disabilities are often low-income, although a similar model has not yet been attempted in Canada, aside from various compassionate pricing programs offered by Licensed Producers which arguably still don’t meet the economic needs of patients.

On some levels, the ruling has created substantial change– patients who chose to place their well being above the irrational previous laws no longer have to fear criminalization for their teas and cookies. In other ways, however, it has not yet had a substantial impact on the day-to-day lives of cannabis patients. According to Ania Bula, a writer and activist who uses cannabis to treat Crohn’s Disease and other health issues, concentrates and other newly-legal cannabis products must now be made accessible through Licensed Producers before many patients can access them. “In practice it hasn’t changed much yet, not until we also allow dispensaries, and other distribution methods to make the concentrates accessible.” Although Health Canada released a statement yesterday issuing a section 56 exemption so Licensed Producers can now provide a legal route of access to oils and fresh cannabis, there are stringent restrictions on the concentration of THC LPs can use, as well as the exclusion of hash and other derivatives important to patients. Many advocates claim that Health Canada is, once again, doing as little as possible to accommodate the court’s decision.

 

Cannabis is still technically not an approved drug or medicine in Canada, and compassion centers and dispensaries remain illegal. Bula, after a visit to Colorado, has seen what these developments could mean for Canada in the future, including the introduction of THC patches (which are especially valuable for Bula and other people with digestive disorders), and e-juices that make vaporizing cannabis (rather than smoking) easier.

Zurn, a harm reduction advocate who is currently in recovery, stated similar concerns to Bula. “Manufacturing of synthetics and extracts needs a regulation system,” he said “conditions like seizure disorders require exact doses, people shouldn’t really be making these things at home. If companies could actually do what they need to do, it would be easier to get products with exact dosage.” Zurn is currently part of a residential treatment program which took him off his prescription for Cannabidiol (CBD), which was the only medicine he found to effectively treat his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “They don’t allow CBD in treatment, but they put me on even more pharmaceuticals,” he said, adding that the pharmaceutical medications he has been prescribed are less effective for him and have more side effects than CBD. In order to achieve full accessibility, it is important to continue dismantling the stigma that surrounds cannabis. Cannabis is still heavily associated with it’s criminal designation, and this means that many doctors are less likely to view it in a neutral light. “Cannabis is a plant that has a lot of potential,” Zurn said. “In Canada, we’re not using healing plants to their full potential, even though other countries are, and the results are clearly positive.”

 

*interviewee requested anonymity

Bill 45: Barring Healthier Choices

Bill 45: Barring Healthier Choices

Dessy Pavlova

On May 26 2015, the Ontario government passed the Making Healthier Choices Act. Hiding behind the facade of helping families make healthier food choices, the bill focuses on banning electronic cigarettes, which includes vaporizers as well as flavoured tobacco products. While the bill focuses primarily on regulating e-cigarettes, the inclusion of vaporizers means that medical cannabis users could be affected by the legislation. Medical marijuana can still legally be smoked in Ontario, but not apparently not vaporized indoors or in city parks. This limits fair access for patients – even a vaporizer approved by Health Canada for medical use is included in the ban. Many patients have won the rights to vaporize in hospitals and educational institutions, so why is this new bill coming in not accommodating their right to vape?!

This also means that Toronto’s beloved vapor lounges may be under threat, as users will be prohibited from using e-cigarettes or vaporizers in any “enclosed public space” or on city property including parks. An implementation date regarding vapor establishments has yet to be set, which could allow for an appeal. Additionally, starting on October 1st, 2015, establishments will no longer be able to offer access to shisha tobacco products, and will prohibit the use of hookah or water pipes. As of January 1st, 2016, selling any flavoured tobacco products will be banned, and before the deadline of January 1st, 2018, so will menthol cigarettes.

Manitoba is implementing similar laws prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and ban use in most indoor and public places, but vaping isn’t put in the same category. The Manitoba law is more balanced, allowing for the smoking of e-cigarettes where they are sold, and allowing for bars to apply for licenses to have them. The Ontario government needs to consider how this bill will affect medical cannabis patients right to vaporize, including accessing vapor lounges and the sale of medical vaporizer equipment.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the potential impacts:

“Re-Normalizing” Indoor Smoking

With the new laws prohibiting tobacco and vapor stores from allowing a customer to view or handle a vaporizer prior to purchase, and barring merchants from speaking to the customer about the vaporizer in any way, there is no way for consumers to attain or apply fact-based knowledge. Bill 45 also outright limits the use of vaporizers in “enclosed public spaces” which could threaten the existence of vapor lounges altogether, alongside shisha bars and any other establishment licensed in Ontario.

Supposedly, one of the main concerns is that electronic cigarettes will “re-normalize” smoking indoors, under the argument that electronic cigarettes and vaporizers release a vapor that “looks like smoke.” Yet, the limitations on e-cigarettes and vaporizers may actually increase traditional smoking, with no available information on safer alternatives. The Electronic Cigarette Trade Association (ECTA) has been reviewing the collective information available, working with Public Health professionals and researchers, many of whom stand against Bill 45, maintaining that it limits health and support for less hazardous choices. Instead of offering credible fact-based research on the harms of electronic cigarettes, the government is simply barring access to knowledge about a potentially safer choice. With Bill 45 comes the prohibition of vaporizing indoors, which further ostracizes an already marginalized group that uses medical marijuana.

Creating a New Drug Trade

Like other prohibitionist legislation, Bill 45 will not dissuade people from using e-cigarettes or vaporizers, but will only serve to drive sale of these products underground. Bill 45 will not deter youth from seeking out illegal substances, but will ensure that access is unregulated, and potentially unsafe. By banning the sale of vape pens, the government of Ontario is inadvertently creating a black market. With illegal products, there is no age limit, no access to evidence-based information, and no assurance of the quality or purity of the product. Further, it limits the potential for reducing the harm of smoking, especially for medical marijuana patients.

Limiting Access Equals Healthier Choices?

Law professor David Sweanor, who has worked in health policy on tobacco and nicotine for 30 years, says that Bill 45 will ironically actually limit people’s ability to make healthier choices. Bill 45 prevents potential customers from viewing and holding an electronic cigarette prior to purchasing it. Yet removing this access will only prevent smokers from making an informed decision about whether to use electronic cigarettes, as people may be reluctant to spend money on a new device they haven’t had the chance to see. This measure is counterintuitive, as it will reduce the likelihood that smokers will switch to this safer method of ingestion. Unlike Manitoba’s proposed laws, there is no vaping allowed in any private clubs, paid venues or rented spaces allowed in Ontario – not even in vape shops. For medical marijuana users in Ontario, rolling up and taking a puff might just be a simpler solution than navigating the complexities of this new law.

Professor Sweanor compares e-cigarettes to safe injection sites for injection drug users — in both cases, it’s the delivery of the drug, not the drug itself, that is responsible for the biggest public health problem. Recognizing this requires that we increase, not limit, accessibility to safer methods of ingestion, and this is one place where the Making Healthier Choices Act falls short.

For patients that use medical marijuana in vapor lounges, or youth that seek flavoured tobacco, e-cigarettes, or hookahs, Bill 45 will not only limit access to credible information, but will have to resort to an underground, potentially unsafe and completely unregulated market for these now illicit products and places to indulge. With the limiting of access of safer alternatives, and the prohibition of safe places for users to vaporize, Bill 45 is likely to limit harm reduction instead of promote it.

Defend Dispensaries

Defend Dispensaries

Dessy Pavlova

Today kicks off the first day of Sensible BC’s Week of Action, May 11-15. Health Minister Rona Ambrose is demanding that the City of Vancouver raid and lay charges against all marijuana dispensaries, rather than regulate the dispensaries as planned. Sensible BC is asking Canadians to call the Health Minister and tell the office about their experiences with medical marijuana. The hope is that patients and supporters will sign the online petition and call the Health Minister every day of the work week – striving to share and educate on the benefits of medical marijuana.

The Sensible BC effort aims to redirect policing funds from needlessly prohibiting marijuana and prosecuting users. After 2013’s failed attempt for a referendum, where 200,000 signatures were collected but fell short of the minimum requirements, this years brings renewed effort. In the past, some supporters were afraid that information would be released to the government and refused to sign up, despite their cannabis use which had an impact on the number of signatures on the petition for a referendum in 2013. For those a little hesitant to supply any personal information, the Week of Action requires nothing but a phone, and the willingness to tell your story (and a blocked caller ID for the very wary).

Will this campaign change Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s mind? Founder Dana Larsen says that it’s not likely, however, “it is a show of strength for our movement. It gives people a place to focus their unhappiness and makes a point to her and her staff.” Wondering how to get politicians talking about sensible drug policy? Pick up the phone, and talk! Get involved with Sensible BC and help the Health Minister understand why marijuana and drug policy reform is beneficial to the health of Canadians.

Global Marijuana March

Global Marijuana March

Daniel Greig

Spirits were high at the 17th Global Marijuana March in Queens Park in Toronto. The gathering marks an end to the “High Holidays”, which unofficially began on April 20th at Dundas Square for 420. This year’s march was a first for me and in spite of the underlying political tension that unfolded, the overall atmosphere was one of celebration. Acoustic guitars and bongos were abundant, though certainly not in numbers comparable to the elaborate marijuana mechanisms that smoked, vaporized and tailored optimal digestion of THC in every conceivable way. Cannabis was sold openly throughout Queens Park North in a variety of forms, from edibles to dabs. Marijuana themed superheroes were common, with a special appearance by “Peter Parkour” who showed up at the CSSDP table to discuss one of the ever-present topics of the day: decriminalization vs. legalization.

 

Though there was more or less consensus on the simple fact that current marijuana policy in Canada is inadequate and harmful, the views on how to make reform happen and what it would look like when accomplished were diverse. Advocates of decriminalization are quick to claim that prices would rise unreasonably if cannabis were to become legal, while the positive effects of full regulation, such as preventing easy access of psychoactive substances to developing brains was a convincing stance taken by many a legalization enthusiast. Undoubtedly, either option is better than the present state of affairs. While the legal nuance of cannabis policy was a topic of casual conversation, differences in how to go about effectively implementing changes of any kind turned out to be the source of a much more apparent and literal divide.

Marc Emery returned to Toronto as the Grand Marshall of the Global Marijuana March, accompanied by Jodie Emery to speak to the present and future state of cannabis culture and activism. Though there were many that were excited for the return of the Emerys, their presence was a point of contention. Some claimed that Marc Emery has outgrown his title as “Prince of Pot” after controversial statements at this year’s 420 Vancouver celebration about youth and cannabis, as well racist remarks at the annual conference hosted by CSSDP.

Making such claims as having smoked with “hundreds of minors” at a political rally is probably not the most effective way to advocate for cannabis legalization. There were also claims made by Hashmob that Marc and Jodie Emery were “fooled into acting as rally cops”, keeping the march moving quickly and efficiently and thereby minimizing impacts of the activists’ efforts. The end result was effectively two separate Global Marijuana Marches, which elicited such sentiments as “you march, we protest”. One group marched behind the parade float blasting hip hop, while the other chanted loudly in order to make their presence known by disrupting intersections for as long as possible. While slowing the march worked for those who couldn’t catch up with the float, other disabled marchers complained that they had to be on their feet for too long. While Jodie Emery danced with other women leaders behind the float, Marc Emery was notably absent as the Grand Marshall as he posed for photos behind the hashmob instead of protesting.

 

#GMMTO #hashmob walking down Yonge Street: “Whose streets?!” #TOpoli

A video posted by Lisa Campbell (@qnp) on

It is unfortunate that such a divide had to occur as it reflects poorly on cannabis culture and could easily serve to harm the cause in the long run. Without working together it might prove difficult to achieve evidence-based drug policy that focuses on minimizing existing harms and maximizing potential benefits. If you’re interested in learning further about the events at the march, you can get a fairly good idea of the background controversy through Jodie Emery and Matt Mernagh’s exchanges on Facebook and Twitter. Though the march began with close calls and near arrests, as it returned to Queens Park when 4:20pm rolled around it was hard to notice anything short of cannabis camaraderie. Activists and entrepreneurs from all walks of weed were spreading their message, which was inevitably some variation on the message. Lets change policy!

The turn out at the CSSDP Toronto table was impressive! Transform Drug Policy Foundation donated “How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide” which is a useful and well received resource. We were lucky to share a table with NORML Canada, who are currently campaigning in support of the Liberals after their recent promise to legalize and regulate cannabis. Part of NORML’S current campaign tactic includes sending thousands of postcards to Stephen Harper from marijuana users demanding the end of marijuana prohibition, which resulted in quite a bit of entertainment throughout the day!

While there is certainly much work to be done in the fight against marijuana prohibition and the Global Marijuana March was an inspiring occasion to attend, there is still much room for positive growth both in policy reform, as well as the cannabis community. Interestingly, a very possible legislative threat to Ontario cannabis culture comes not from the cannabis legalization debate itself, but from the realm of e-cigarettes. Bill 45, which has an unnecessarily extensive reach on the regulation of vaporizers of all kind threatens not only the sale of all vaporizers online, but the display of such products in stores as well. It could also be applied to target and shutdown vapor lounges and social clubs with the overall impact of eliminating jobs and businesses. This is an important piece of legislation that should certainly not be without opposition as it would serve only to set back any attempts towards a sensible policy on cannabis and the surrounding culture. Now more than ever it’s time for the movement to work together to push legalization forward, as we’re at a critical point. Though tensions were high at the Global Marijuana March, hopes were as well! Instead of fostering division, hopefully in the coming years the march will be a day to celebrate the successful efforts made in support of the 2.3 million cannabis users in Canada. While it’s not quite time to parade yet, if we work to create an inclusive cannabis culture where all voices are valued we can achieve change together.