Increased addiction and drugged driving, the problem of second-hand smoke in multi-unit dwellings, and the exposure of children to smoke in homes where pot is used were just some of the concerns raised at two anti-marijuana rallies in Vancouver this week.
One of the rallies, both of which were billed as an “anti-celebration” of legalization, took place on Oct. 17, the day recreational use of the drug became legal nationwide.
“We don’t think that marijuana legalization is anything to celebrate,” Pamela McColl of SAM Canada, the Canadian chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in an interview on Oct. 14 after the first rally.
“We think that Oct. 17 is a very bad day, a very grey day for Canadians. It’s very bad public policy and it will harm a lot of people, particularly children.”
SAM Canada, one of the organizers of the rallies, is an alliance of organizations and individuals whose primary focus is educating the public about the harms of marijuana legalization—a policy the group claims places profit and addiction ahead of public health.
“There’s many problems with marijuana,” said McColl, an author and publisher who spoke at both rallies. “We don’t think the Trudeau government has thought this through very well and it’s a big mistake.”
McColl questions why marijuana is being legalized when only 8.7 percent of Canadians use it.
“The rights of the majority should be considered here, and the majority of Canadians shouldn’t want more marijuana, more health risks, more health costs, more drugged drivers, more children harmed. Why is this being allowed?”
According to the Canadian Medical Association, marijuana use has been associated with cardiovascular and pulmonary illnesses, mental illness, motor vehicle accidents, cognitive impairment, and dependence, among other issues.
The government has said legalization will help keep the drug out of the hands of children and reduce the criminal element in the market. Under the Cannabis Act, people over 19 are allowed to smoke cannabis wherever they can smoke cigarettes, apart from cars and boats.
Problem of second-hand smoke
A big concern for Naomi Baker, who also spoke at the rallies, is the increase of second-hand smoke affecting non-smokers in multi-unit dwellings that will most likely happen upon legalization.
It’s something Baker has had first-hand experience with. She has been fighting to get something done about the smoke—both cigarette and marijuana—that has been seeping into her Langley, B.C., condo from neighbouring units since she and her husband bought it in 2016. The health of her young daughter has been of particular concern.
“It’s been an ongoing battle trying to find resolutions to keep the smoke out of our home. I don’t have anything against the smokers per se, but when the smoke comes into my home it becomes my problem,” she said in an interview.
“Legalization does bring the anticipation of more second-hand smoke because of more people smoking, and so my position is I don’t want anybody that doesn’t want to be affected by smoke to be affected by smoke.”
Baker formed the group Air We Share in an effort to change the laws around smoking in multi-unit dwellings, which she said “heavily favour the smoker and smoking behaviour over the health and wellness of innocent bystanders who are subjected to it.” She believes the “default setting” should be zero smoking in conjoined housing.
An online petition Baker initiated to achieve that goal gathered over 12,000 signatures in just a month. Her local MLA has agreed to present the petition to the B.C. legislature after she gets the signatures in print.
“There’s thousands of people that are affected by this,” she said. “Everybody knows second-hand smoke is dangerous and it’s just a matter of time before the government’s going to get sued for the damages that are happening.”
Risks for children and youth
One of McColl’s primary concerns regarding legalization is children being exposed to the harm of second-hand smoke in homes where marijuana is used.
“No child should be exposed to second-hand smoke in their home, nobody should have a child around them when they’re smoking,” she said. “The Trudeau government refused to allow a law to come into place that would have banned it in the homes of children. I think that’s wrong.”
She noted that in 2008, the State of California classified marijuana smoke as a carcinogenic under prop 65. “So people should take second-hand smoke very seriously.”
The Pediatricians Alliance of Ontario has warned that legalization of marijuana could pose a serious risk to the health of children and teens, noting that after the drug was legalized in Colorado in 2014, a children’s hospital in the state saw a fourfold increase in the number of teenagers ending up in emergency rooms due to marijuana intoxication.
“The public needs to understand that marijuana use has been proven to cause serious damage to the developing brains of children,” said PAO president Dr. Hirotaka Yamashiro in a statement last year. “Parents and caregivers should be taking precautions.”
The federal government has set the minimum age for recreational cannabis use at 18, but the medical community has concerns about that since the brain continues to develop until age 25, and marijuana use at a younger age can damage brain development.
“The Ontario Medical Association wanted the government to ensure that the legal age for using cannabis was actually 25, not 18,” OMA president-elect Dr. Sohail Gandhi recently told NTD Television.
“And it’s because of the fact that in the younger people, school age or high school age, we would see diminished effects on school performance and we’d also see more issues with perhaps behaviour like suicide and suicide attempts and other behaviours consistent with depression.”
Gandhi noted that in the under-25 age group, pot use comes with an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and psychosis.
“In that age group there’s a significant concern around taking recreational cannabis,” he said.
Canada is the first G7 country to legalize marijuana and the second in the world after Uruguay to make cannabis use legal nationwide. Although some U.S. states have legalized it, the drug remains illegal under federal law.
McColl believes legalization is a big misstep for Canada.
“It’s very poor public health policy and that’s why no other country has done it, except Uruguay, for a reason—it’s a really bad idea.”