The Health Officers of B.C. is among groups backing a call for the legalization of marijuana as public policy healthier than the status quo.

A new report by the Stop the Violence B.C., a coalition of health, academic and justice experts, was released Thursday to demonstrate the failure of current anti-drug policy.

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It uses government-funded data to show that cannabis trends are thriving, despite decades of huge cash injections to law enforcement agencies in both Canada and the U.S.

“If the goal is to reduce the availability of marijuana, it’s clearly been a dramatic failure,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a founding member of the coalition and director at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS. “By every metric, the government’s own data has shown this policy has clearly not achieved its stated objective.”

The report, How Not To Protect Community Health and Safety, is being released as the federal Conservatives’ omnibus crime bill – which toughens penalties for growing and possessing pot – heads towards speedy passage into law.

Those measures will continue to drive policy in the wrong direction when what government should be going is regulating and taxing cannabis under a comprehensive public health framework, the coalition contends.

A spokeswoman for the federal justice minister was unequivocal: “Our government has no intention to decriminalize or legalize marijuana,” said Julie Di Mambro.

Among the groups supporting the initiative to legalize marijuana is the 90-member Health Officer’s Council of B.C., which includes current and retired medical health officers and other physicians.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, a former Interior Health medical officer who chairs the council, said experts are not asserting the drug is safe, but that policy as it stands puts the public at even greater risk.

“We need to acknowledge that our current approach to some of our substance-use policies is perhaps not as evidence-based as it should be,” he said.

“We need to be proceeding to a dialogue that keeps the public’s health as one of the prime drivers in the decision-making process.”

Hasselback noted that, unlike widely used substances such as alcohol and tobacco, officials cannot prescribe measures for safe use of cannabis because it’s illegal. The public is wary of the dangers of drinking and driving, he added, but there is little knowledge or research around using pot and driving for the same reason.

Arrests and cannabis seizures soared when anti-drug funding jumped, according to available data presented in the report, but none of the other anticipated impacts materialized.

Since 2007, the majority of at least $260 million in funding against drugs from Ottawa has been allocated to policing. Between 1990 to 2009, arrests have increased by 70 per cent.

Meanwhile, the parallel U.S. budget has increased from $1.5 billion in 1981 to $18 billion in 2002.

Arrests jumped there by 160 per cent between 1990 and 2009, while pot seizures more than quadrupled.

But at the same time, prevalence of cannabis use rose.

The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey showed 27 per cent of B.C. youth between 15 and 24 smoked weed at least once in the previous year.

In Ontario, the number of high school students using pot doubled from fewer than 10 per cent in 1991 to more than 20 per cent in 2009.

In the U.S., use climbed about eight per cent among Grade 12 students.

“It’s just so clear that organized crime has absolutely overwhelmed these law enforcement efforts with the price of marijuana going down dramatically . . . ( and ) the potency has gone up astronomically,” Wood said.

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Source: Kamloops Daily News (CN BC)
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Copyright: 2011 Kamloops Daily News
Website: CN BC: Health Officers Among Groups Calling For Legalized Pot