Canada Cannabis Legalization Is A Big Step, But It’s Leaving Young Canadians Behind
I wrote this a few days after the legalization of cannabis in Canada, which occurred on October 17th. As a cannabis patient myself, I felt I needed to speak out about the limitations of the law. I once needed cannabis, and I was underage. Under this law, if I had been born in Canada, I wouldn’t be able to safely access medical cannabis. The following has also been published on Benzinga as an opinion piece.
Photo by Javier Hasse.
A major economy legalizing cannabis is an enormous step
Only a few days ago, Canada became the first major economy and member of the G7 to legalize cannabis on a national scale. This is great news for all users and advocates of cannabis around the world. We are all looking at Canada, and wondering if this could happen in our countries one day in the near future.
Now, Canadian recreational cannabis consumers are able to purchase cannabis legally and worry-free. And those Canadians with conditions for which medical cannabis is an option should become more comfortable asking about it, now that it’s legals. This should translate into more access to medical cannabis for those that need it.
Limitations in the Canadian legalization model
While it is a great first step, as a former patient and user of cannabis for medical purposes I find there are some important gaps and missed opportunities that make the regulation incomplete. Edibles and concentrates remain illegal. In US states where cannabis can be purchased legally, they represent a huge share of the market. There is a real demand for these products that won’t be satisfied (via legal channels).
Purchasing cannabis might be legal and worry-free, but actually using it will be more difficult. Under the regulation, employers and landlords have been given the power to discriminate against cannabis users. Some might struggle to use their cannabis. Currently, the police have stopped focusing on minor cannabis offenses. However, with the new law expected to be enforced more tightly, smaller offenses, such as lighting up in public places, might not be tolerated.
Young Canadian patients — left behind
My biggest concern is the lack of access for younger Canadians. Young Canadians below the legal age will not be able to access medical cannabis. The new national law, which repealed and replaced the old ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations), prevents anyone younger than 18 years from obtaining medical cannabis. Provinces and territories can set their own age, most setting it at 19 to match the legal drinking age. The regulation in place since 2001 helped a lot of young Canadians, but now they are being left out by a regulation that favours recreational use. Kids suffering from ADHD, epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, dravet syndrome or anxiety won’t be able access cannabis under the new regime.
This current regulation has been inspired in many ways by alcohol regulation, centralized by the Liquor Board, with raising tax money as a central focus. But unlike alcohol, has the potential to help people of all ages with complicated medical issues. And this is what the regulation should tackle better. More emphasis should be placed on a more rational and fairer eligibility criteria for medical cannabis use.
Risks associated with cannabis as a treatment should be weighed against severity of pathology, not age
Dr. Jokūbas Žiburkus, from the University of Houston, has spent most of his life as a scientist investigating therapeutic treatments for severe neurological disorders. His work concludes that cannabis, especially CBD, is extremely effective in alleviating some of the most severe and painful symptoms children can go through. In the UK, the case of Billy Caldwell helped the government to reconsider the legalization of medical cannabis. Billy, autistic and epileptic, suffered from life-threatening seizures that his mother kept at bay by treating with cannabis oil.
Cannabis and cannabis derived substances can benefit children as much as adults, but we have an even greater responsibility to protect children and provide them with worthy lives. Legalization might have taken us out of the dark ages of prohibition, and that is something to celebrate. But we are far from enlightenment, and our job far from done.