Canada's effort to legalize marijuana will compel legislators to come up with regulations for the drug over the next few months and some forthcoming research coming out of British Columbia may help them in that effort.
Health Minister Jane Philpott told the United Nations on Wednesday the federal government would bring forth its marijuana legislation in the spring of 2017.
Philpott said the government's broader drug policy — including its efforts to legalize pot — will be rooted in scientific evidence and viewed from a public health perspective.
M-J Milloy, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, is leading a new study that will seek to recruit at least 1,500 people who are 15 years of age or older, so they can be asked about their personal use of marijuana.
He spoke to Bob Steele, the host of CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive, about the plans for study. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
The debate over pot safety and the debate over its efficacy, when it comes to health claims, has been raging for years. So, why undertake this study now?
I think, now, it's quite timely to do this study, because, as you just mentioned, the minister has said that Canada has committed to legalizing cannabis and to constructing a public-health framework to control the creation, distribution and use of cannabis.
What this framework needs is evidence and evidence of the way Canadians use cannabis, the possible harms and benefits and that's really what this study is going to set out to provide.
To the best we can, we're going to be recruiting people in Vancouver — adults who report using cannabis. We're going to be asking them about their cannabis-use habits and we're going to be exploring the harms and the benefits of cannabis in their lives.
What do you think a marijuana or a cannabis policy should look like?
I think for it to be successful, it should really do a couple of things.
It should try to mitigate the harms of cannabis use. And some of those harms might be obvious. It should try to deal with use by youth, by people using cannabis before they drive and those sorts of short-term issues.
It should also attempt to understand who might be becoming dependent on cannabis and good strategies to identify those individuals and help them seek treatment for that dependence.
But you know, I think the cannabis policies should also seek to increase the proportion of cannabis users who are buying legal cannabis. I don't think it is discussed as often, but I think one of the real benefits of this legalization could be removing a great deal of money and therefore power from organized crime groups in Canada.
Expanding further on this point, Milloy also told Afternoon Drive that he hopes legalization will shift some of this money into government coffers.
What are your timelines for your study?
We are hoping to begin to recruit people within the next month. It will be a large study, but one that we'll conduct largely online.
We're hoping to have results from the study by the end of the summer and hopefully, policymakers and activists and others and citizens will be able to benefit from that data and understand a bit more about how Canadians use cannabis and what a good system for public health and cannabis might look like.