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Canada’s imminent legalization of marijuana has been met with feverish anticipation. Backed by high public approval from all age groups, it seems like this decision has been a long time coming. From news headlines on the latest medicinal uses, to reports on the highly successful business in Colorado, weed is receiving a full rebranding. Many supporters are also dedicated to exposing the racist and xenophobic origins of marijuana’s intense persecution. While many people of my generation fully embrace everything that legal marijuana has to offer, I hesitate at these strong pushes to accept the psychoactive plant. When something seems too good to be true, it probably is; the benefits of marijuana are blown out of proportion, feeding into a myriad of myths and misconceptions that need to be debunked. All around the Internet, the same arguments are put forth over and over again – its important medicinal uses, its potential to stop the national drug overdose epidemic, and of course, its profits –but in the finer details of these arguments marijuana loses its excitement.
First of all, legal consumption does not guarantee risk-free usage. Two prime examples of harmful legal substances are tobacco and alcohol, which despite their severe health consequences, are massively popular with many different age groups. The prospective laws for weed are very similar to current regulations placed on tobacco and alcohol; people will not be allowed to drive under its influence, and the minimum age to purchase and possess will be 18. This, however, does not attest much to its safety; just because it is legal does not mean it is good for you, as illustrated by the detrimental effects on health and wellbeing presented by the aforementioned substances. Marijuana still has harmful side effects that will not disappear with its legalization.
The generation that is most accepting of marijuana is also the most likely to be harmed by it. Cannabis can change the structure of brains that are still developing, irreversibly impairing cognitive function and memory. Studies demonstrate that chronic usage decreases IQ and brain matter in humans, especially in those younger than 20. Adults past their mid-20s are able to use pot as an antidepressant or to decrease anxiety, but adolescents who use weed heavily actually increase their risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders. These are the important details that articles with flashy headlines don’t include; there has been no effort to lessen this huge disparity in information, contributing to a false idea that marijuana is low-risk for everyone. As clinical research develops and continues to find conditions that marijuana can treat, there must be a greater effort to communicate exactly who is able to benefit, and more importantly, who is at risk. In the case of cannabis, what you don’t know will hurt you.
When it comes to possibly solving the national drug overdose epidemic, misconceptions about marijuana’s lethal and addictive qualities are a red herring. While weed is traditionally less addictive than hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, people can quickly develop dependency when they are using it to relieve chronic conditions like stress or insomnia. Upon stopping, they will experience withdrawal just as they would with “harder” drugs. In fact, Cannabis withdrawal syndrome (CWS) is characterized by irritability, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and changes in mood, all incredibly similar to withdrawal symptoms from other harmful drugs. When people turn to marijuana to try to escape their substance addiction, their dependency has not been cured; it has only shifted to another substance. People are eager to claim marijuana will solve the national overdose epidemic, but while the overdose may be prevented, the addiction persists. If the cost of stopping overdoses is more widespread substance abuse, that is not a cure; that is swapping one epidemic for another.
Some of the buzz around marijuana comes from its prospective profits. In 2017 alone, Colorado’s legal weed market produced over $100 million in revenue, which will be put towards education and drug rehabilitation programs. This all sounds incredible, but in reality, there is not much proof that Canada will experience similar success. A recent CIBC World Markets news report estimated that the weed industry in Canada could be worth $5 billion – however, the black-market could easily weaken this estimate. Provinces still need to decide whether their dispensaries will be privately run, creating room for profitable competition, or be controlled by the government. There is also concern that said black-market activity will continue in rural areas if dispensaries do not reach more remote communities. Likewise, it is too soon to tell how much money the government will collect from marijuana taxes, and how it will be divided between the federal and provincial governments. Overall, it is unclear whether they will be successful in setting up a profitable business model in such uncharted territory, and where the money generated from marijuana sales will go.
The question of why this law is considered a victory for Canadians remains. The benefits of weed are overblown; spreading the idea that cannabis is a miraculous, cure-all drug while the full extent of the damage that it can cause is still unknown is unquestionably dangerous. Although there is no point in villainizing marijuana, portraying it as a dangerous “gate-way” drug, going too far in the opposite direction also does not do any good if people become ignorant to the risks. The closer Canada gets to legalizing marijuana, the more crucial it is to not get carried away by excessive excitement and take a firm stance without doing proper research.
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