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Public health expert expects tweaks to marijuana law

The federal government is conducting a mandatory review into the Cannabis Act
Aurora Medical Marijuana

A public health expert is expecting tweaks to marijuana law as the federal government conducts a mandatory review of the Cannabis Act. 

The law made marijuana legal in Canada when it passed through parliament in 2018.

"The work doesn't end when you legalize it. It starts," said David Hammond, a professor in the school of public health sciences at the University of Waterloo. 

"I like to point out that we're still bringing in new laws and regulations for tobacco cigarettes 100 years later."

Hammond said so far, marijuana use has gone up a bit, though not much among youth or children.

However, SickKids and the Hospital of Ottawa have warned of a surge in unintentional cannabis poisonings among Canadian children.

There has also been some success in transitioning people from the illegal to the legal market.

"Somewhere around three quarters of the market has shifted. That's billions of dollars that are going towards legitimate businesses and the government," he said.

There have been fewer convictions for marijuana possession, but Hammond said knowing the full effects of legalization will take time.

"We need to have kids grow up as they walk past cannabis stores, or maybe see some cannabis advertising, and then start to age into young adulthood before we can guess," he said.

At the same time, Hammond does not expect changes coming to involve a decision on whether to end legalization.

Since marijuana became legal, Canadians' support has risen, though it's nowhere near unanimous.

Hammond also points out growing calls to decriminalize more drugs in response to the opioid and meth crisis, which would not be in line with ending marijuana legalization. 

"It's more saying 'what's our comfort point?' You can have a legal market that's super restrictive. You can have one that's super liberal. Where do we want cannabis to fit there," he said. 

Hammond said some of the areas the federal government could look at are: the types of marijuana products being used, whether certain marijuana products should be sold, and regulating the number of stores that are open.

"I have a feeling that we're going to be tweaking our marijuana laws for many, many years, but this is an excellent opportunity to take stock. We have an industry that wants to loosen regulations. We have some public health folks that want to tighten them," he said.

"This gives a mechanism, an opportunity, to really take a look and say 'let's look at the big issues on what we got right, what we can improve. And that can't happen soon enough."

The federal review of the Cannabis Act has been delayed by a year due to the pandemic. 

An official report needs to be presented to the House of Commons by the end of March 2024. 

Hammond wants to see more reviews in the future as the marijuana market changes. 

"The products, the industry, the landscape is going to change and we'd be fools if we didn't change with it, in terms of our laws and regulations, in thinking about what works best for Canada and its consumers," he said. 

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