Colorado’s chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk recently shared some tips with Health Canada officials about what to expect after legalizing recreational cannabis.
Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer Helps Canada Prepare for Legalization
Canada is planning on legalizing cannabis nationwide for recreational use. A promise from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau got things rolling, and the loose timetable says Canadians could see legal cannabis as soon as Spring 2017.
Dr. Wolk admitted that as a pediatrician he had counseled patients against using cannabis for many years. Unfortunately he allowed this ‘reefer madness’ to influence his initial approach to legalization.
“I came into this with some biases as a result of our culture, prior to legalization,” Dr. Wolk told CBC News.
After almost 3-years of legalization, it’s much easier to get a sense of just how recreational cannabis affected things like: teen consumption, hospitalization rates and collisions involving marijuana use. There was an immediate increase on all fronts, as many would have expected. What really took the wind out of the anti-marijuana activist’s sails was these rates quickly fell, sitting back at pre-legalization rates.
Teen usage rates, using cannabis while driving and hospitalization rates were only a few things covered in the meeting. Wolk advised Health Canada officials from across Canada to “park those biases and stay objective.”
Topics Covered in the Health Canada / Dr. Wolk Meeting
Minimum Age to Legally Use Cannabis
The legal age to purchase and consume recreational cannabis in Colorado is 21, the same as the legal drinking age.
Gillian Connelly, manager of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with OPH says “One of the things that the research clearly demonstrates is that early access to cannabis can have detrimental effects for brain development – and the brain develops up to age 25.”
Dr. Wolk didn’t disagree with Connelly, but the research is mixed surrounding the detrimental effects of cannabis use on teens.
The OPH is recommending a minimum age of 25 years old to purchase cannabis.
“I think you have to weigh that against some of the practical consideration, which is that there are a fair number of young adults who are using marijuana illicitly here in Colorado and in Canada, in certain parts of the country, at a fairly high rate of prevalence,” explained Dr. Wolk.
“And so do you capture that and address that by legalizing it so now you can do the appropriate amount of surveillance and education and ongoing research – or do you continue to try to sort of fight the fight and say that it’s illicit up until 25?”
Provincially operated liquor stores have already expressed interest in becoming the sole distributor for recreational cannabis. Arguing that they already have the framework and expertise in place in order to responsibly enforce age restrictions.
The Impact on Teens
There’s been no increase in teen cannabis consumption in Colorado since legalization.
The number one argument that anyone has against the legalization of cannabis is that all of a sudden every teenager in the country will start sparking up. Where this notion began, who knows, but it’s an obvious scare tactic that doesn’t hold up in reality.
Colorado had braced for an increase in teen use once legalization rolled out with state-funded programs targeting teens.
Dr. Wolk admits “While the rates haven’t gone up, they haven’t gone down either.”
The Impact on Adults
There’s been no notable increase among adults using cannabis in Colorado since legalization.
Health officials in Colorado assumed there would be an increase in usage rates among adults after legalizing recreational cannabis; there wasn’t.
Dr. Wolk explained that the usage rate among adults in Colorado was already relatively high compared to the rest of the country. These same adults who used cannabis illegally pre-legalization are the same ones using cannabis legally today. There hasn’t been a notable increase in regular users post-legalization says Wolk.
Emergency Room Visits
Immediately after legalization there was an increase in E.R. visits related to cannabis use in Colorado. It has since leveled off and returned to pre-legalization levels.
“The only increase trend is coming from folks from outside Colorado who come to Colorado.” explained Dr. Wolk. People who are inexperienced with cannabis or haven’t taken the time to familiarize themselves with it are often the ones who find themselves in trouble.
A weekend trip to Colorado in order to legally enjoy cannabis can be a fantastic getaway, but for someone who partakes irregularly or isn’t too familiar with marijuana they can easily bite off more than they can chew.
Here’s where things can get tricky. When talking about homemade edibles, even the most seasoned cannabis users have a story or two about an edible that snuck up on them and really laid them out. It’s very difficult to get consistent dosages from batch to batch, one cookie might do next to nothing, the next might send you to the moon.
Dr. Wolk said that health officials hadn’t considered the impact of alluring marketing surrounding cannabis edibles. Fruit flavored gummies and medicated chocolates would have any young child clamoring for a taste. Since legalization officials have had to introduce packaging laws for cannabis edibles that are very similar to how Canada regulated cigarette packaging.
The problem wasn’t that these edible companies were marketing to children though, “I think, in an effort to be creative and innovative in their marketing to adults, they arguably inadvertently made many of these edibles enticing to children. You know, candy bars, brownies, gummies,” Dr. Wolk explained.
Advantages Canada Has Over Colorado
There is a major advantage to legalizing cannabis nationally as opposed to state by state though. Dr. Wolk explained that Canada has a major advantage over states like Colorado because of their national approach to legalization.
“Many of the challenges related to legalization, from a public safety standpoint, really have to do with the fact that it’s legal in Colorado but it’s illegal in all of our surrounding states,” Wolk said. “We know that there’s a grey market, if not a black market, for trying to grow legally in Colorado and transport across state lines where it has street value. So I would think that by having a national approach to legalization, it really does help minimize the potential black market impact, and the criminal market and valuation of the street marijuana because you’ve taken all of that away.”
After reviewing some of the early plans and proposals for Canada’s legalization movement I am extremely happy they decided to seek Dr. Wolk’s council.
While the actual plan is far from being set in stone, I hope the Canadian government will keep Canadians in mind, as well as its medical users. Yes, there is a huge amount of potential tax revenue, but using legalization as a money grab would be a mistake.
Legalizing cannabis in Canada will create thousands of jobs, help make cannabis more accessible and consistent for medical users and hopefully help to make Canada the leader in cannabis research.