A call by B.C.’s Chief Medical Health Officer for marijuana to be decriminalized in Canada is welcomed by patients at the Taggs Medical Cannabis Dispensary in Maple Ridge, who see his support as crucial on the path to eventually legalization.
In a paper published in Open Medicine, an international, peer-reviewed medical journal, Dr. Perry Kendall and his Nova Scotia counterpart Dr. Robert Strang endorsed taxing and regulating cannabis as an effective way to improve health and safety in Canada.
“There is clear evidence to demonstrate that the so-called war on drugs has not achieved its stated objectives of reducing rates of drug use or drug availability,” said Kendall, who co-authored of the paper with Dr. Evan Wood.
“There are alternative approaches that have proved more effective in protecting public heath while not enriching organized crime and driving gang violence.”
Taggs dispensary, operated by non-profit The Always Growing Green Society, has 615 members who travel from as far as Ashcroft to avail of its services.
Michael Joinson, the society’s president, welcomed the call for regulation and pointed to his growing membership base as evidence that cannabis is increasingly being seen as an alternative to pharmaceuticals.
The ointments, edibles, extracts and tinctures Taggs dispenses help treat symptoms for a variety of illness including anxiety, depression, AIDS and cancer.
“Regulation is what we want,” said Joinson, adding the growing support for cannabis policy reform is a step in the right direction.
“We want to be accepted. I can’t see it going backwards now.”
The paper, released Tuesday, recommends that the Canadian government re-evaluate strategies such as mandatory minimum sentences, which have proven costly and ineffective in other nations.
It notes that nearly 94 per cent of the estimated $426 million spent on Canada’s drug strategy in 2001 went to law enforcement.
It also points out that a growing number of European countries, such as Portugal and Holland, have treated drug use as a health rather than a criminal justice issue and have seen lower rates of drug use, as well as lower rates of drug-related infections, overdose deaths, and crime.
Kendall joined a growing list of people who come out in support of regulating and taxing marijuana.
Last month, four former B.C. attorneys-general – Graeme Bowbrick, Ujjal Dosanjh, Colin Gabelmann and Geoff Plant – called for the legalization of marijuana.
Their appeal followed former Vancouver mayors Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell, Philip Owen and Mike Harcourt who advocated late last year for an end to prohibition.
For Rob Sharp, who uses cannabis to keep his epilepsy in check, regulation and taxation will mean a wider acceptance of the marijuana’s medicinal qualities.
“As soon as you say pot, people have Cheech and Chong image,” said Sharp, referring to comedic stoner-duo from the 1970s.
“It’s not for everyone though, in the same way not all pharmaceutical prescriptions work for everyone.”
Jesse Russell, 26, who is recovering from cancer, had to bus into Vancouver to get his supply of medical marijuana before Taggs opened in May 2010. Previously on a cocktail of pharmaceuticals for pain and nausea, Russell no longer takes the prescribed drugs and now tells other cancer patients about the benefits of eating or smoking cannabis.
“I was so doped up,” Russell said.
“The pills were making me more sick.”