British Columbia

B.C. medical health officers join call to legalize pot

B.C.'s medical health officers are joining a powerful coalition of health, academic and justice experts calling for an overhaul of Canada's anti-drug policies.

Stop the Violence coalition says prohibition isn't working

Marijuana policy

11 years ago
Duration 2:08
Some B.C. medical health officers have joined a coalition that wants Canada to legalize marijuana

B.C.'s medical health officers are joining a powerful coalition of health, academic and justice experts calling for an overhaul of Canada's anti-drug policies.

In a written statement, the Health Officers' Council of B.C. says it has unanimously passed a resolution to support Stop the Violence BC. The council includes all medical health officers throughout the province as well as physicians, researchers and consultants.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, who chairs the council, said medical 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 like alcohol and tobacco, officials can't proscribe measures for safe use of cannabis — simply because it's illegal.

The public is wary of the dangers of drinking and driving, he added, but there's very little knowledge or research around using pot and driving for the same reason.

Pot cheaper, more potent than ever

Dr. Evan Wood, a founder of Stop the Violence BC, says it's clear prohibition isn't working.

"The more money that we pump into anti-cannabis law enforcement does not have any kind of effect on rates of use and price of cannabis has gone down quite dramatically," he said. "The government's own data show that Canada's prohibition has failed."

A new report from the Stop the Violence BC coalition says billions of dollars have been spent in the hopes of stemming the drug trade — but marijuana is cheaper, more potent and more available than ever.

The coalition says instead of criminalizing pot, Ottawa should regulate and tax it.

The call comes as the Tories' wide-ranging crime bill — which toughens drug penalties — is nearing passage into law, but the federal justice minister stands by the decision not to decriminalize or legalize marijuana.

Asked for reaction to the report, a spokeswoman for the federal justice minister was terse.

"Our government has no intention to decriminalize or legalize marijuana," said Julie Di Mambro in an email.

Arrests, seizures soar

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.

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.

"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.

Stop the Violence BC launched its campaign in October with a report that showed criminal organizations are making huge profits and engaging in street-level warfare over the underground drug trade.

A group of former Vancouver mayors have voiced their support for the coalition, which includes former B.C. Supreme Court justice Ross Lander and B.C.'s former chief coroner Vince Cain.

With files from The Canadian Press