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Canada’s Pot Challenge: Keeping Kids Safe

Publication Date: 
August 22, 2014
Source: 
The Regina Leader-Post
Author: 
Peter O’Neil

Professor Rob MacCoun weighs in on the effects of possible marijuana legalization in Canada for The Regina-Leader Post. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are warning Canadians Justin Trudeau wants to make weed “more accessible to kids” by displaying and selling it in neighbourhood stores.

Nonsense, the Liberal leader replies. Canadian youth already have easy access to the prohibited substance despite the Conservatives’ hard-line approach to drugs. A regulated regime that legalizes cannabis, the Liberals claim, will actually make access tougher.

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But the reality is even the best system can’t remove the likely role played by organized crime in continuing to supply cheaper blackmarket product to youth, said Rebecca Jesseman, a policy analyst with the Health Canada-funded Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Stanford University law professor Rob MacCoun suspects the Liberal proposal will lead to increased youth consumption, though he also agrees his views amount to informed speculation.

”We’re really in uncharted territory,” said MacCoun, author of several academic studies assessing the effect of liberalized marijuana laws in jurisdictions like the Netherlands and several U.S. states. “If Canada is somehow able to thread the needle and restrict availability, ban advertising and somehow keep prices from falling, then I think it could have an experience more like what we are seeing in the Netherlands - modest levels of use not unlike their neighbours.”

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Neither U.S. state will necessarily be the model Canada would be expected to follow, since both are allowing advertising and marketing - factors influencing use. As well, prices are expected to go down sharply as companies overcome startup costs, said MacCoun. Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale, in a Wednesday interview, ridiculed the Conservative allegation Trudeau wants to make pot more easily available to kids. But he said the exact details of his party’s proposal won’t be made public until the election platform is released.

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One UNICEF study said Canada's youth consumption rate was highest among a selection of developed countries in 2001-02 and in 2009-10. MacCoun, who strongly endorses decriminalization but says he's "agnostic" on legalization, said the biggest problem with the Liberal proposal is the difficulty in keeping the price from falling sharply.