University of British Columbia researcher M-J Milloy is leading a new study that aims to provide feedback from cannabis users as the government moves forward with legalization.

Milloy said past research in the area has focused on users seeking treatment for cannabis use.

“To my knowledge, no one has done a study to gather data from the full spectrum of people who use cannabis,” he said. “We’re hoping to survey people who may have problem cannabis use, people who use it medically or non-medically, and people for whom cannabis isn’t a big part of their lives. We hope to gather data that can help inform good public policy.”

The study will sample 1,500 Vancouverites over 15 years old to talk about their cannabis use.

“There are still lots of questions to sort out regarding how cannabis will be distributed and sold. How old should you be to buy it? Should it be sold in pharmacies? Is it safe to drive if you’ve been using cannabis?” Milloy said. “Unfortunately, there is a shortage of credible data. That is something courts and others have pointed to as a problem.

Milloy said while researchers know that cannabis is much safer than alcohol and doesn’t have any risk of fatal overdoses like opioids, some users do have dependency issues and trouble controlling their cannabis use.

“In states like Colorado and Washington, where cannabis is legal, we have seen some increases in markers of problem cannabis use but we haven’t been able to confirm if there’s a true increase,” Milloy said. “Our study will try to estimate what proportion of cannabis users might be experiencing dependence and look at which types of cannabis use might be linked with a greater risk of dependence.”

With Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government promising to legalize cannabis, Milloy said it’s important that policy be created with accurate information to minimize possible harms and maximize benefits.

“Many people, myself included, support legalization in part because of the potential to take organized crime out of the equation,” Milloy said. “However, to eliminate the control of the market by organized crime, a legal cannabis system has to provide recreational users with something better than what they get from non-legal sources, in terms of factors such as price, value, convenience, and variety.”