The legalization of cannabis in Canada just had its third anniversary, which means it’s time for the federal government to review and possibly tweak the policy.
In some areas, the reviews are positive. Legalization has resulted in the emergence of a multibillion-dollar industry, new jobs and tax revenue. There have also been fewer cannabis-related drug convictions among young people.
But despite some positive signs, some health experts are concerned that the rapid growth of the industry combined with a lack of recent data about potential public health impacts means we could be missing some warning signs.
“Legalization is not an on-off switch that occurred,” said Dr. Daniel Myran, a public health doctor in Ottawa. “The retail market has matured over time, but at the same time, a lot of the data that we have about what happens after legalization comes from a very early period.”
Cannabis use is up
On Oct. 17, 2018, cannabis became legal in all provinces and territories for adults 18 and over, making Canada just the second country to legalize recreational use of the drug.
The Cannabis Act, introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, had a number of goals. Among them were to keep the drug out of the hands of youth, take profits away from criminals and to protect public health.
Since then, more Canadians seem to be using cannabis.
According to the government’s most recent survey, 27 per cent of participants reported having used marijuana in the past year — an increase from 22 per cent in the first cannabis survey conducted in 2017.
Statistics Canada data suggests retail sales in 2020 were just over $2.6 billion, which represented a 120 per cent increase compared to 2019.
While there are indications marijuana consumption has gone up, criminal convictions for cannabis-related crimes among youth have dropped dramatically.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, says the effects of cannabis legalization in this area are significant.
“From the perspective of a criminologist, legalization has been successful with respect to reducing the criminalization of people for cannabis offences,” said Owusu-Bempah, who is also an adviser to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and director of research for Cannabis Amnesty.
However, there are still areas of concern, he said.
The economic benefits of legalized cannabis are not being shared equitably, as the industry is disproportionately white and male. Eighty-four per cent of directors and executives in the industry are white, he reported in research conducted in 2020, and women make up just 14 per cent.
And many of those left with criminal records from offences committed prior to legalization are people of colour, he said, and he wants to see more records cleared.
Public health impact
Russell Callaghan, a professor in the University of Northern British Columbia’s northern medical program, is researching the impacts of legalization on a range of public health indicators. He says research in that area is still in its early stages.
What has stuck out to him so far, however, is that many of the concerns around legalized cannabis — including potential increased cases of cannabis-induced psychosis and schizophrenia, and driving under the influence of drugs — have not materialized.
Callaghan says his research on traffic injuries in Ontario and Alberta does not suggest legalization has had a significant effect, at least not yet.
A recent report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada (MADD) says the number of drug-impaired driving charges is “extremely low” — accounting for just 11 per cent of the 5,506 impaired driving charges across Canada in 2019.
Some provinces, such as Ontario and Quebec, saw a significant increase in drug-impaired driving charges that year, but the report attributes that mainly to new laws and enforcement powers.
Some experts caution it may be too early to call legalized marijuana an all-round success.
“The research is still quite new, so there’s a caveat there,” Callaghan said of his work.
Another goal of the Cannabis Act is to protect public health, and on that measure, rising consumption may bring new challenges.
“When we see increases in rates of use, that starts to raise a bit of a warning sign in terms of public health, because we don’t want to see more people consuming,” said Rebecca Jesseman, the director of policy at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), an Ottawa-based non-governmental organization.
Callaghan says his ongoing research suggests youth visits to emergency departments because of poisoning or overuse of marijuana may be trending upward “significantly.” That mirrors American trends in states that have legalized marijuana, he said.
But what we know may not be as concerning as what we don’t, Jesseman said.
“To be honest, it’s just too soon,” she said of assessing legal marijuana’s effects on public health.
“The retail sales system is still stabilizing and really rapidly expanding, if you look at provinces like Ontario, where we’ve seen over 1,000 new stores in less than a year introduced. So I think that we really need to keep watching for the health and safety impacts and adjusting as we go.”
It’s a concern shared by Myran, who is a fellow in the department of family medicine at the University of Ottawa.
That’s because almost all of the available research on legal marijuana comes from the first six months after legalization, he said. The industry in many provinces and territories looks very different now than it did then — both in terms of the commercial availability of cannabis and the range of cannabis products available.
Data is still limited, and the COVID-19 pandemic has overlapped with much of the time marijuana has been legal.
Myran led a study published in June that found the number of retail cannabis stores in Canada had increased from 158 in November 2018 to 1,792 in April 2021.
“The problem it creates is that we have lots of data about the early phases after legalization, at the exact time that there was essentially no legal market,” he said.
“The concern is that, will we now, as the market matures and you see a large increase in cannabis sales, see related increases in cannabis use and harms?”
Edibles are not accounted for in much of the available data. That’s notable, Myran says, because edibles present some difficult public health challenges compared to other cannabis products such as flowers and oils.
“One of the chief harms is it’s much easier for people to take too much cannabis,” he said.
Myran adds that some provinces and territories have allowed edible products that closely resemble candy or baked goods when removed from their packaging, which can look appealing to children.
Industry seeks changes
Now that the third anniversary of legalization has come, the statutory review of the Cannabis Act is set to begin.
The Cannabis Council of Canada (C3), which represents more than 700 licensed producers and processors of cannabis in Canada, has some policy changes it wants the government to make.
In a report card on legalization released this week, C3 gives governments a B grade on keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth and protecting public health — but that’s as high as the grades go.
C3 gives governments a failing grade in four areas — combating the illicit market, taxation policy, consumer education and awareness, and financial viability.
“We can’t get too excited in a circumstance where the illicit market remains with at least 50 per cent of the business,” said George Smitherman, the president and CEO of C3
“If the illicit market is still selling billions of dollars of cannabis, that’s a lot of tax revenue that governments aren’t getting.”
Despite the many poor grades, Smitherman doesn’t call the overall execution of cannabis legalization a failure.
“I think maybe better put as a failed opportunity,” said the former Ontario health minister.
To that end, C3 is hoping to work with policy-makers on a number of changes to the industry, including reducing regulations and taxes. Smitherman says the excise tax is putting significant financial pressure on producers.
“There are regulations which weigh us down, which some people have characterized as nanny state regulations,” Smitherman said. “Including, just as an example, that you’re limited in the amount of cannabis as an individual that you can have to 30 grams.”
But it’s those types of proposed changes that most concern Myran, the public health doctor.
He predicts the government is going to come under heavy pressure from the industry to roll back public health regulations, including things like child-resistant packaging and restrictions on advertising. Those are public health measures that have proven effective in limiting harms from tobacco and alcohol, he said.
“That’s kind of my big worry, that as we move forward, we will take this lack of evidence on harms in the first three years as evidence that legalization and commercialization do not cause increases in use and harms, roll back some of the policies that are currently in place, and a couple of years from now see large increases in use … and harms and have to deal with them.”
Canada joins diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 8, 2021 12:43PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 8, 2021 4:27PM EST
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will join a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year, citing extensive human rights abuses by the Communist regime in the host country.
The decision comes two days after the United States announced it would not send government officials to the Olympics over concerns about China’s human rights record, and particularly allegations of genocide against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang province.
Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have all since followed suit.
Trudeau said Canada too is “extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government.”
“I don’t think the decision by Canada or by many other countries to choose to not send a diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics is going to come as a surprise to China,” he said Wednesday.
“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns for human rights violations.”
A diplomatic boycott means Canadian athletes can and will still compete but no government officials will attend, including Pascale St-Onge, the new minister of sport.
While it has been rare in recent years for the prime minister to attend an Olympics, Canada normally sends multiple government representatives including cabinet ministers and often the governor general.
Last summer, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough represented the Canadian government at the delayed Tokyo Olympics. In 2018 in Pyeongchang, Trudeau requested then-governor general Julie Payette attend for Canada. Kirsty Duncan, then the sport minister, attended both the Olympics and Paralympics along with several staff members.
Former governor general David Johnston attended for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
There were some calls for countries to stage a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing over human rights concerns, or at least to refuse to attend the opening ceremonies. But former prime minister Stephen Harper rejected that idea and sent his foreign affairs minister, David Emerson, to attend the games, including the opening ceremonies.
China denies allegations of human rights abuses and is accusing the United States of upending the political neutrality of sport. Chinese diplomats slammed the decisions by the U.S. and Australia, accusing countries of using the Olympics as a pawn, and adding several times that “nobody cares” whether diplomats attend the Games.
Mac Ross, a kinesiology professor at Western University’s International Centre for Olympic Studies, said Canada is sending a message to China and the International Olympic Committee that it “will not support the hosting of Olympic Games against the backdrop of widespread human rights violations.”
Ross also said China’s accusation that the boycotts politicize the Olympics ignores how many times China itself boycotted the Games.
“The People’s Republic of China has staged full boycotts of the Olympics multiple times, on purely political grounds,” Ross said. “Why are boycotts suddenly unacceptable? The answer is simple: they place the regime’s human rights record front and centre.”
In a written statement, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker and Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Karen O’Neill said they respect the decision made by the government.
“The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee remain concerned about the issues in China but understand the Games will create an important platform to draw attention to them,” they said. “History has shown that athlete boycotts only hurt athletes without creating meaningful change.”
The Chinese Embassy in Canada has not yet reacted to Canada’s decision, but tweeted ahead of the announcement that “the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are about athletic excellence and global unity. Stop using it as a platform for grandstanding and division.”
China threatened to take “countermeasures” against the U.S. but has not specified what that means.
Trudeau said Wednesday concerns about arbitrary detention of any foreign nationals by the Chinese government continues to be a concern but that Canada will do everything necessary to ensure the safety of Canadian athletes competing in Beijing.
“We know that our athletes need to have one thing in mind that is representing their countries to the best of their ability and winning that gold medal for Canada,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said the RCMP are always involved in ensuring security for Canada’s athletes and that Canada’s diplomatic missions in China will also be helping ensure the athletes have everything they need.
Canada’s diplomatic relationship with China is still strained following nearly three years of tension over China’s detention of two Canadians. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were finally released from Chinese prison in September.
Canada always alleged they were detained in retaliation for its decision to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States, which wanted her extradited there to face fraud charges.
The two Michaels, as Kovrig and Spavor came to be called, were freed the same day Meng struck a plea deal with the U.S. and was released from Canada.
Opposition Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he supports a diplomatic boycott but accused Trudeau of lagging behind Canada’s allies in making the decision.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday – CBC News
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tighter restrictions Wednesday to stem the spread of the omicron variant, urging people in England to again work from home and mandating COVID-19 passes for entrance into nightclubs and large events.
Johnson said it was time to impose stricter measures to prevent a spike of hospitalizations and deaths as the new coronavirus variant spreads rapidly in the community.
“It has become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,” he said in a news conference. “Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of omicron could currently be between two and three days.”
Johnson said that 568 cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed across the U.K., and “the true number is certain to be much higher.”
He said beginning next Monday, people should work from home if possible. Starting on Friday, the legal requirement to wear a face mask will be widened to most indoor public places in England, including cinemas. Next week, having a COVID-19 pass showing that a person has had both vaccine doses will be mandatory to enter nightclubs and places with large crowds.
Overall, the British government reported another 51,342 confirmed daily cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 161 more people dying.
The announcement came as Johnson and his government faced increasing pressure to explain reports that Downing Street staff enjoyed a Christmas party that breached the country’s coronavirus rules last year, when people were banned from holding most social gatherings. Johnson on Wednesday ordered an inquiry and said he was “furious” about the situation.
The revelations have angered many in Britain, with critics saying they heavily undermine the authority of Johnson’s Conservative government in imposing virus restrictions.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:55 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 267.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which maintains an online database of global cases. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Wednesday that governments need to reassess national responses to COVID-19 and speed up vaccination programs to tackle the omicron variant, though it is too early to say how well existing shots will protect against it.
The variant’s global spread suggests it could have a major impact on the pandemic, and the time to contain it is now before more omicron patients are hospitalized, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“We call on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing,” he told a media briefing. “Any complacency now will cost lives.”
In Europe, France’s Ile-de-France region — with the capital Paris at its centre — said all hospitals are activating an emergency plan due to the strained COVID-19 situation. The plan includes stepping up the number of ICU beds and, if necessary, rescheduling treatments to free up capacities.
Meanwhile, European Union health ministers discussed measures to try to halt the spread of the omicron variant, with the Netherlands calling for negative tests for incoming travellers from outside the bloc and France urging tests even for those arriving from EU states.
Poland and several other countries in central and eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccination rates than in western Europe.
In Russia, more than 1,200 people with COVID-19 died every day throughout most of November and for several days in December, and the daily death toll remains over 1,100. Ukraine, which is recording hundreds of virus deaths a day, is emerging from its deadliest period of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the mortality rate in Poland — while lower than it was in the spring — recently hit more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked. Intensive care units are full, and doctors report that more children require hospitalization, including some who went through COVID-19 without symptoms but then suffered strokes.
The situation has created a dilemma for Poland’s government, which has urged citizens to get vaccinated but clearly worries about alienating voters who oppose vaccine mandates or any restrictions on economic life.
In the Americas, the number of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 200 million Wednesday amid a dispiriting holiday-season spike in cases and hospitalizations that has hit even New England, one of the most highly inoculated corners of the country.
Brazil will require that unvaccinated travellers entering the country go on a five-day quarantine followed by a COVID-19 test, after its president said he opposed the use of a vaccine passport.
In Africa, South Africa reported nearly 20,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, a record since the omicron variant was detected, and 36 new COVID-related deaths. It was not immediately clear how many of the infections were caused by omicron, given only a fraction of samples are sequenced, but experts believe it’s driving South Africa’s fourth wave of infections.
A weekly epidemiological report published Tuesday by WHO said that in the Middle East, the most cases reported last week were in:
- Jordan, with 32,108 reported cases.
- Iran, with 26,255 reported cases.
- Lebanon, with 10,406 reported cases.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea will consider expanding home treatment of COVID-19 patients, as both new daily infections and severe cases hit record highs, putting hospital capacity under strain.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 4:05 p.m. ET
U.S. Senator asks FTC to probe Facebook’s ad practices
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell on Wednesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Meta Platforms’ Facebook misled its advertising customers and the public about the reach of its advertisements, according to a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan.
“I urge the FTC to immediately commence an investigation into Facebook’s representations with respect to brand safety, Potential Reach, and similar metrics with respect to its advertising business and, if that investigation reveals that the company has in fact violated the law, to pursue all available sanctions as appropriate,” the letter said.
(Reporting by Chris Sanders; editing by Diane Craft)
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