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B.C.’s chief provincial medical health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall and his Nova Scotia counterpart, Dr. Robert Strang, called upon the federal government to evaluate alternative strategies, including the regulation and taxation of marijuana, to improve community health and safety.
Drs. Kendall and Strang, along with Dr. Evan Wood, co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), published a review paper recently in Open Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal. The authors conclude: “In light of the persistently widespread availability and relative safety of cannabis in comparison to existing legal drugs, as well as the crime and violence that exist secondary to prohibition of this drug, there is a need for discussion about the optimal regulatory strategy to reduce the harms of cannabis use while also reducing unintended policy-attributable consequences (e.g., the organized crime that has emerged under prohibition).”
Given the overwhelming evidence showing that marijuana prohibition has been a costly 30-year failure, the authors recommend that governments re-evaluate strategies, including mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offences. Mandatory minimums have proven costly and ineffective in other nations, and the authors note their implementation is “a complete departure from evidence-based policy-making.”
“The so-called war on drugs has not achieved its stated objective of reducing rates of drug use. Marijuana is universally available in B.C. and the supply is controlled largely by criminal enterprise,” said Kendall. “As with tobacco and alcohol, we could devise regulatory frameworks to limit access and harms.”
Strang cautioned that continuing with the status quo will further increase unintended consequences, such as HIV outbreaks among incarcerated drug users, violence, deaths, broken families and wasted taxpayer dollars.
``If our objective is to minimize drug use, minimize health and social impacts from drug use, we need to be open to having policy and public discussions that look at all aspects and all potential ways to approach this, not just our current ideologically single approach,'' Strang said to Halifax’s The Chronicle Herald.
Kendall and Strang are adding their voices to a larger public health community in Canada that has called for evidence-based drug policies. Coinciding with the Open Medicine paper, the Urban Public Health Network, which comprises the chief medical health officers of the 18 largest municipalities in Canada, endorsed the Vienna Declaration, a global consensus statement calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug use policies. The Vienna Declaration was initiated by the BC-CfE and unveiled as the official declaration of the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. It has since been signed by more than 23,000 people.
In recent months, under the Stop the Violence BC campaign, a range of high-profile authorities in B.C. have spoken out in favour of marijuana taxation and regulation including former Vancouver mayors, premiers and provincial attorneys general.