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Prohibition won’t stop teen pot use
In your recent article, “Mayors echo call for pot reform” (The Leader, May 1), Surrey Mayor Diane Watts indicated that she would not support marijuana reform because drug dealers are targeting kids. Though her observations are correct, the evidence shows that her conclusions are wrong.
To help prevent children and teenagers from obtaining marijuana we need to regulate the cannabis market under a public health framework, rather than blindly hope that the experiment with alcohol prohibition will not be repeated with marijuana.
In today’s unregulated cannabis market, organized crime has taken over the production, distribution and marketing of marijuana. As a result, children and teens are targeted by dealers and have easy access to the drug. Regulation, as proposed by Stop the Violence BC and our supporters, would allow government to regulate the potency and implement strict limitations about how cannabis is sold and who it is sold to.
We can look to the successful policies which have limited tobacco access to young people for guidance.
Enforcing cannabis prohibition laws does not have any bearing on rates of cannabis use and instead creates the ‘forbidden fruit’ effect, making cannabis more appealing to young people. For instance, although Canada has seen a 70 per cent increase in cannabis-related arrests from 1990 to 2009, this increase in anti-drug law enforcement has not made cannabis less available to teenagers and young adults in British Columbia.
According to the 2009 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, 27 per cent of BC’s youth (aged 15-24) used cannabis at least once in the previous year. The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey reported that annual cannabis use among Ontario high school students has doubled since the early 1990s, from less than 10 per cent in 1991 to more than 20 per cent in 2009.
In a study released in the U.S., where marijuana prohibition has been aggressively enforced for decades, it was found that teen marijuana use continues to rise. While teen marijuana use increased by eight per cent between 2008 and 2011, teen tobacco use decreased by 19 per cent.
For youth today, accessing marijuana is easier than accessing alcohol and tobacco. The evidence is clear – marijuana prohibition does not prevent criminal gangs from targeting kids. Politicians should be guided by the evidence when developing public policy, rather than supporting a policy that supports the growth of increasingly violent organized crime groups who are increasingly effective at marketing drugs to kids.
Evan Wood, MD, PhD, ABIM, FRCPC
Professor of Medicine, University of BC
Founder, Stop the Violence BC