Ottawa must monitor how legal pot could hurt and help: experts

published on December 8, 2016 by Mike Hager in The Globe and Mail

A federal panel reporting to Ottawa on the next steps toward legalizing marijuana is expected to call for a comprehensive regime to monitor the impacts of bringing the substance out of the shadows and into the mainstream. And that could make Canada the world’s first national case study on the dangers – and potential benefits – of cannabis when the drug becomes legal, some of the country’s leading drug researchers say.

Researchers must study the dangers, such as impaired driving and more young people using it, says Dan Werb, director of the Toronto-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. But, he adds, they must also be open to looking for pot’s potential public-health benefits, such as people substituting cannabis for alcohol or opioids.

M.J. Milloy, an infectious-disease epidemiologist who is studying the therapeutic effects of marijuana at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said he is about to start recruiting 1,000 clients of illegal Vancouver dispensaries for a study into how and why they use cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. He has funding for the initial round of interviews, but hopes to secure resources to once again ask these people about their habits after cannabis is legalized.

He said his study should shed light on how everyday Canadians are using the substance and will stand in contrast to previous studies, many of which were conducted in hospitals or jails involving “people who have been pathologized.”

“By recruiting from dispensaries, we are trying to get a clearer, less-biased picture of the role cannabis plays in the health and wellness of Canadians,” Dr. Milloy said.

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