Researchers gear up for cannabis legalization

published on April 5, 2018 by BRIAN OWENS in University Affairs

The community is eager to track the wide-ranging social, economic and health impacts of this historic shift in public policy.

Sometime later this year, if all goes as planned, Canada will usher in what University of Calgary health policy researcher Fiona Clement calls “the largest cultural change in my lifetime” – cannabis will cease to be an illegal drug, ending decades of prohibition. It is a development that few people would have thought possible just a few short years ago, and researchers across the country are eager to study the wide-ranging social, economic and health impacts of this momentous shift.

Research on cannabis is tightly regulated, says M-J Milloy, a research scientist at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and an assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of British Columbia. Researchers wanting to study the physiological effects of cannabis in humans require special permission from Health Canada, called a section 56 class exemption. “It’s just as difficult to study cannabis as heroin or cocaine,” he says.

Last June, Dr. Milloy organized an open letter, signed by dozens of researchers across the country, calling on the government to ease the restrictions on cannabis research ahead of legalization. So far, there have been no changes in the regulations, but Health Canada confirmed that once cannabis is removed from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, a section 56 exemption would no longer be required. The agency has published a short description of how it proposes to regulate research following legalization, making it easier for researchers to grow, process and possess cannabis, but these changes are focused primarily on agricultural research and product development.

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