Canada has taken a huge stride forward this year in the area of marijuana reform and what that can mean for those living in the country. As of October 2018, the plant will be available for sale to people who want to use it for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Marijuana, which has been found to be both healthier and safer to consume than alcohol and cigarettes, as well as safer and more effective for pain management than prescription drugs, will now be legal to possess in small amounts. The end of prohibition in Canada not only marks the end of casual Canada marijuana users facing the threat of fines, jail and criminal records but it also throws the door wide open on marijuana research. Due to its status as an illegal substance, scientific research on the plant has been financially and legally restricted. While many boast of marijuana’s many medicinal benefits, its ability to help narcotic users kick their habits and its safety benefits over substances like tobacco and alcohol, there has been a limited amount of government sanctioned research to support it on any kind of official level. This is something that will change now as the field of Canada marijuana research opens up.
An “Open Way” to Cannabis Research
According to The Scientist, M-J Milloy, an infectious disease epidemiologist who studies HIV patients and their illicit drug use at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and the University of British Columbia, the potential to discover solid facts about marijuana is now here. “Cannabis has risks and maybe benefits,” she said, stating that “what we, as scientists, have not been able to do is try to figure out what those risks and benefits are in an open way. The hope is that legalization of cannabis will take the shackles off scientific inquiry and will allow us to ask and answer the sort of questions we should have been asking twenty, thirty, forty years ago.”
Canada’s Investment Into Cannabis Research
It would seem that her hopes for the future of Canada marijuana research are already manifesting as the Canadian government has decided to invest $1.4 million towards researching the effects of legalization in the country. 14 separate studies will be conducted at hospitals and universities across Canada. Each research team will receive $100,000 to research the plant and the effects of legalization.
According to Global News, Bill Blair, the MP who has acted as the government’s point person on cannabis legislation, said “our government is prepared to invest to change this reality. We are committed to strengthening the evidence base with regard to the health benefits and the risks of cannabis use.” He acknowledged the need to understand legalization’s “behavioural, social and economic implications” as well as the need for more research to be done on the health effects of marijuana. “The opportunity for the scientific community to do the important research that’s been outlined today has been significantly restricted by a prohibition environment,” he said. “It’s only by lifting that criminal prohibition that we have enabled the type of research that can now take place.”
Legalizations Impact on Specific Communities
A variety of studies will be conducted on Canada marijuana including the effects of legalization on public health. A CAMH researcher, Sergio Rueda, was the recipient of such a grant. His team will evaluate the effects of legalization on indigenous and radicalized communities. He believes that research done on marijuana legalization and its impact on public health will allow the government to create new policies and refine its existing ones. Another study will analyze the provincial governments’ regulatory models for Canada marijuana policies.
Prohibition, at least in the U.S., most commonly affects minorities. Despite the usage of marijuana being the same across racial communities, it is usually minorities that are disproportionately penalized for marijuana possession. The legal fees, fines and incarceration time are not the only negative impact of a marijuana related charge. Future housing, education and employment is often affected and the repercussions of this greatly affects families and communities as a whole. Studies evaluating the impact in legalization will no doubt shed light on how Canada marijuana prohibition truly affects public health.
Other Focuses of Canada Marijuana Research
Studies that evaluate how legalization affects pregnant women as well as its effect on teenagers will be other areas of interest. Its impact on those with opioid addiction will be evaluated as well as how legalization affects the safety of the roads, especially in comparison to other substances. All angles of legalization and public health will be investigated. While some have criticized Blair for not conducting some of these studies in advance, he has responded saying it would have been too difficult while the plant was still illegal.
Restrictions to Research in the U.S.
As Canada makes powerful strides forward with research now, it could influence other places to begin backing and conducting more research. In the U.S., marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, in the highest risk category alongside heroin and LSD. This is the classification reserved for substances that are highly addictive, have no medicinal value and considered too dangerous to test on humans.
In August of 2016, the DEA responded to a letter, signed by 11 senators, asking that the classification be reviewed. The DEA eventually responded, stating that they would not change the classification but they would begin a process of approving officially sanctioned research. Since this time, forward movement on approving government studies has been stunted by the Department of Justice, led by long time prohibitionist Jeff Sessions. As a result, the plant remains illegal on a federal level.
Despite its legal status on a federal level, marijuana is currently legal for medicinal purposes in 30 states and legal for recreational use in 9 states as well as Washington D.C. The most recent polls show over 80 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing the plant for medicinal purposes and over 60 percent of the country is in favor of legalizing it for recreational purposes. Nonetheless, there has never been any official research done into the medicinal or health effects of the plant.
Canada’s stride forward on research will no doubt have a positive influence on both medical marijuana research and marijuana reform studies across the world.