Whichever party takes power this fall, addiction specialists urged that recreational cannabis needs to be legalized and regulated by the government to prevent the rise of large, multinational producers that don’t have the public’s best health interests in mind.

Published Sept. 21 in the Canadian Medical Association Journaldoctors Sheryl SpithoffBrian Emerson and Andrea Spithoff detailed problems with the current prohibition of cannabis and argued why the government should control the market for Canadians.

“We’re hoping to provide some direction to policy-makers in Canada to encourage them to rethink their current policies around cannabis, to move away from prohibition because it doesn’t work and has a lot of harms associated with it,” said Dr. Spithoff, a family physician and addiction doctor at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

The authors wrote that one concern with legalization was that it can allow the rise of “Big Cannabis,” powerful multinational corporations like “Big Tobacco” or “Big Alcohol” that are interested more in market and revenue expansion than public health.

“They increase tobacco and alcohol use by lobbying for favourable regulations and funding huge marketing campaigns. It is important that the regulations actively work against the establishment of Big Cannabis,” the authors wrote.

The doctors stated that prohibition does nothing to address public health concerns, and criminalization of cannabis has done nothing to stem the use of the drug.

A UNICEF report in 2013 showed Canadian children and young people have the highest rate of cannabis use (28 per cent).

“Our hope with legalizing it is that less youth will have access to it,” Spithoff said. “We’ll be able to achieve our public health objectives, restricting access; limited hours that stores are open; and also young people won’t have to go the illegal market to access cannabis. Especially for young adults, that’s risky.”

Spithoff said 500,000 Canadians have criminal records related to cannabis possession.

Dr. Jurgen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimated annual costs of cannabis law enforcement of $1.2 billion.

The CMAJ paper pointed to countries like Uruguay as an example of a framework for recreational cannabis legalization that could work here.

That country’s government purchases cannabis from licensed producers and then sells it through pharmacies. This gives the government control over production, quality and prices.

Canada’s federal parties all have different outlooks on cannabis regulation going into October’s federal election. The Liberals have said they will legalize, the NDP favour decriminalization and the Conservatives are interested in maintaining the current medical-only structure.

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