The question as to whether Canada should decriminalize the use, sale, and cultivation of marijuana has been debated over the past few years, and the debate has taken a sharper turn now that it is being decriminalized in Colorado and soon in Washington State.
What are the economic and social benefits of making marijuana legal in Canada -- and what is the residual impact on human health? Given that today there are glaring inconsistencies in Canadian law regarding marijuana -- as opposed to the legal sale of alcohol and tobacco -- how does the Canadian government propose to adjust its current laws if indeed marijuana becomes legal? These are the pertinent questions to be answered in this paper.
Thesis: The position of this writer is that Canada should proceed to decriminalize marijuana and remove the label of "controlled substance" -- because marijuana does less harm to users than alcohol and tobacco, and the potential tax windfall for the government would be enormously beneficial -- and the specifics of those positions are spelled out in this paper.
Writer's Position on Decriminalizing Marijuana
In the first place, alcohol and tobacco, according to the Drugs and Drug Policy in Canada, cause "…by far the greatest number of harms and costs to the population" (Riley, 1998). There are "relatively few harms…" caused by marijuana, Riley writes, but as for alcohol, which is one of the most toxic drugs available to the public, it has a lethal dose of only 10 to 20 times its effective dose. Alcohol clearly poses the biggest threat to the Canadian public (including the damage done by drunk drivers, the ravages of alcoholism on families and communities), but anyone of age can simply purchase alcohol in any number of venues. Tobacco has cost the nation billions of dollars in related health issues, and like alcohol, it can be purchased easily (given that a person is of the proper age -- in the same context as alcohol).
And yet recreational marijuana remains a "controlled substance" with fines that far exceed the harm it poses to society. In fact moderate smoking of marijuana appears to pose minimal damage to the community -- and moreover, it poses minimal threats to the lungs, as will be discussed later in this paper. Hence, the facts do not support the draconian laws imposed when a person is arrested for possession of marijuana. In addition, lung cancer (caused by cigarettes) is not in any way linked to moderate marijuana smoking, and there is no evidence that any harm is done to the central nervous system when a person smokes marijuana.
Secondly, since the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) was put into law, more than 600,000 people "have been given criminal records under old and new legislation for possession of cannabis," Riley writes. Obviously, instead of tweaking old laws and trying to better legislate the use of marijuana, this drug should be legalized.
McGeorge Law Review -- Marijuana Misconceptions & Truths
In the peer-reviewed McGeorge Law Review, the author points to the fact that experts believe the "adverse consequences of criminal sanctions" are greater than the "adverse consequences of marijuana" when smoked (Danovitch, 2013). Also, the myths that surround the use of marijuana need to be exposed and discussed, Danovitch continues. After explaining the specific chemical reactions in the human body after smoking marijuana, Danovitch delves into the medicinal benefits of marijuana, pointing to the research by the American College of Physicians (ACP) that encourages the use of "non-smoked forms of THC" (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) that have "proven therapeutic value" (Danovitch, 95).
The ACP also has taken positions that there should continue to be research into the therapeutic benefits, and that those researchers looking into the benefits of marijuana should be exempt from "federal criminal prosecution" (Danovitch, 95). [What Danovitch does not include in his scholarly narrative is the fact that twenty states in the U.S. (plus the District of Columbia) have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana -- which in those states make marijuana available upon a doctor's prescription.]
Is marijuana addictive? The answer to that question is that some people become psychologically addicted to cannabis; however it is a scientific fact that marijuana does not cause physical dependence. Marijuana does cause brain changes that include: a) short-term memory loss; b) sense of time; c) sensory perception; d) verbal fluency; e) reaction time; and f) psychomotor control (Danovitch, 99).
How Could Canada Benefit Economically from Legalizing Marijuana?
According to Larissa Flister, writing in the peer-reviewed Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences, about 4.39 million adults (12.6%) in Canada have used cannabis in the last twelve months and some 26.3% of youths between 15 and 24 years of age have used (or are using) marijuana.
Flister does the math and reports that given the value of a typical marijuana cigarette ("joint") is about $8.60, and it costs about $1.50 to produce a joint, that indicates a profit of about $7.10. Taking those numbers further, and figuring that the government would be the marketing agency for marijuana, since an estimated 160,000 kilograms of marijuana are consumed in Canada annually (and that may be an underestimation given that Flister's figures are based on 2004 estimates), the government could realize tax benefits of "about $2 billion" (Flister, 97).
That $2 billion could produce a budget surplus of $2.7 billion -- rather than the current projection that Canada is looking at (a $1.3 billion deficit) (Flister, 97). There are other advantages to legalizing marijuana, including the fact that fewer non-violent offenders would need to be housed in Canada's prisons. Indeed, in 2010, 54% of the 113,100 arrests for drug crimes were for possession of marijuana (Flister, 98).
Canada already has medical marijuana available on a doctor's prescription, and an article in Forbes (Wood, 2014) asserts that Canada expects "over $3.1 billion in annual sales" and that of course produces hefty amounts of taxation.
Meantime the State of Colorado has benefitted enormously from taxes raised through the legal sale of marijuana. In the month of April, Colorado legal marijuana outlets sold $22 million, and Colorado's medical marijuana outlets -- where customers need a doctor's recommendation and a state license -- sold about $32 million in April. The total tax revenue for both recreational and medical marijuana in April was $5.3 million (Wyatt, 2014).
The sale of recreational marijuana is heavily taxed, according to John Ingold of the Denver Post; in fact shoppers pay a 12.9% in general and special sales taxes and a 15% "excise tax" as well. Schools are among the beneficiaries of these tax revenues in Colorado: in April alone, $735,000 was earmarked for school construction.
Taxes collected in Colorado since January 1 (the day recreational marijuana went on sale) from both medical and recreational marijuana sales totaled $17.9 million (Wyatt, p. 1). State officials expect to receive up to $184 million in marijuana taxes in the first 18 months after recreational marijuana was legalized on January 1, 2014.
What can be learned from the Netherlands?
Marijuana has never been formally legalized in Holland, but the government has allowed coffee shops to sell small amounts for use on the premises -- as long as no sales of other drugs are available (Szalavitz, 2013). The Dutch have had this policy in place since 1976, and consumption of marijuana in Holland is about the same as in other European countries but is "far less than that in the U.S." (Szalavitz).
A poll in 2011 (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) shows that about 23% of Dutch citizens ages 15-64 had tried marijuana and about 7% say they use it on a regular basis (Szalavitz). In the U.S. those rates are 42% and 24% - "nearly double Holland's for lifetime use and nearly triple…" for regular usage (Szalavitz).
Moreover, a report from the organization "Open Society" explains that the Dutch have "…fewer problem drug users than is typical in Europe," and the use of heroin has "dramatically declined over the past several decades," Szalavitz continues. This data, presented by Jean Paul Grund, senior research associate at the Addiction Research Center in Utrecht, suggests that being able to buy marijuana legally in coffee shops reduces the risk that marijuana will become a "gateway" drug to harder drugs (Szalavitz). Buying marijuana from a drug dealer sometimes opens the door to other, more dangerous drugs that the dealer might also have for sale; hence, legal sales reduces the user's contact with drug dealers, Szalavitz explains.
Does Smoking Marijuana Cause Lung Cancer?
Research conducted in 2008 by Patricia Weiss (RN, MSN, OCN, CCRP) shows that while some studies show there may be a "basis for cancer development" related to marijuana use, other research does not show "an association between a history of marijuana use and an increased risk of lung cancer" (Weiss, 2008).
The author explains that "…most of the U.S. population who used marijuana" did their smoking as young adults and adolescents, and then quit using marijuana…