Canada needs to learn from its experience regulating tobacco and alcohol and not make the same mistake with cannabis legislation.
Instead, a non-profit cannabis authority could oversee legalized cannabis, says a McMaster University drug policy specialist.
Michael DeVillaer has published a paper examining many aspects of the potential law reform to legalize cannabis for recreational use, and he sees a perilous repeat of history in the making that could yet be avoided.
"Tobacco continues to be responsible for just about all drug-related deaths in Canada. Alcohol accounts for more illness and injury than any other drug. Opioid-related deaths are sweeping across North America. Our current regulatory systems for these drug industries are not working," he says.
He points to the profit motive of the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical businesses and that "the upstart drug industry stands eager to make an enormously lucrative transition from the medical to recreational markets for cannabis."
He adds that "our regulations have not protected the public's health and safety from the indiscriminate pursuit of revenue of these industries."
DeVillaer is an assistant professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster and a member of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research of McMaster and St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He retired last year from 37 years with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
In his detailed paper Cannabis Law Reform in Canada: Pretense and Perils, he calls for decriminalization of minor cannabis possession; suggests the Canadian government work methodically towards the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes with a priority on public health and safety; and proposes the establishment of a not-for-profit cannabis authority for its supply and regulation.
He sees the not-for-profit cannabis authority as serving the existing level of consumer demand, with no objectives for market growth. He backs suggestions by other drug policy experts that such an approach would be a viable alternative to the move from the current prohibition of cannabis to for-profit legalization of the drug.
"Nonetheless, I'm not naïve about how unpopular this suggestion of a not-for-profit authority will be with the government and others committed to this being an entrepreneurial for-profit industry," he says.
"But that approach has not been working with our other legal drug industries and it is responsible for a great deal of harm to the public's health. Cannabis legalization provides Canada with an opportunity to try a different approach."
The paper may be found at: https://fhs.mcmaster.ca/pbcar/documents/Pretense%20&%20Perils%20FINAL.PDF