Cannabis legalization, liquor control, and bias

Just an update on the cannabis file. There has been considerable interest in this topic since, well, the past few years I suppose. But after the Liberals came back to power, with Justin Trudeau making a clear argument for legalization, not just decriminalization, the attention has been ramped up.

I’ve had a chance to speak to the media quite a bit on this, and several articles have come out about the topic.

As a historian, of course I take the long view. I relate current cannabis legalization challenges to the challenge of legalizing liquor after prohibition. These views have come out in several pieces in the past little while

First, I’ll let my ego soar and mention articles that I’ve written or been involved in:

Toronto Star‘s Chris Reynolds 22 Dec 2015

Prohibition: A history lesson 

My Op ed on this topic from 15 Dec 2015 The Globe and Mail

Why should liquor control boards sell cannabis?

My op ed in National Post over a year ago (5 November 2014)

How to legalize pot?

Of course there is more, and some of it does not take a historical focus apart from looking at the last few months or years’ experiences.  These are important perspectives, but a longer view gives us more insight.  After all, both the Colorado and Washington state regimes are still being established.

So consider the following documents

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health releases its policy framework supporting legalization based upon harm reduction principles

Canadian Medical Association Journal advocates a similar perspective but is much more circumspect.  If you can’t access that material (it may be behind a paywall) then check out the CBC’s coverage here 

My concern with this editorial was this fixation on “big cannabis” which rhetorically links it to other industries presented as conspiratorial and out to mess with the public’s health, such as “big tobacco” and “big pharma.” Let’s leave the rhetoric aside, since it does nothing more than perpetuate myths that may not be valid.

Yet although I advocate cannabis legalization (and note, I have never smoked the stuff and have no interest in consuming it in any way) I should note that there are many voices of caution. I’m not going to post them all, but a quick jump into the newspapers will reveal a range of angles.  As a caution, remember to read through the rhetoric and into the evidence.

Here is a good example of rhetoric trumping content, as presented in the Toronto Star also on 22 December.

More young adults in Ontario would smoke pot if feds legalized drug: Poll

Pretty alarming title, huh?  And given that many people may see this on the front page in large type it could sway opinions.  But read on.

The president of Forum Research, which ran the study, noted that “He noted that overall, it doesn’t appear that legalization would prompt a sharp uptake in marijuana use.” Moreover, he said “When you look at how many are using it now and how many would use it when it’s legal, it’s not that many people at the end of the day.”

Yet the Star’s title, histrionic as it is, suggests something more dire.  It is literally correct, but does not provide anything like the nuance that the study found.

I’m not surprised (and wrote to the Star about this, a letter which appeared 4 January 2016) because the Star is historically a prohibitionist paper.  That angle persists, just manifested in different ways.

While we are talking about rhetoric, I’d like to point out the rhetoric of opponents. This is the problem I find, that people internalize the intense moralism of those who disagree with cannabis legalization. Like the temperance forces a century ago, they write as if the substance itself will bring down Western society.

After my op ed in the Globe, I received the following letter:

I’m totally shocked that you have allowed yourself to be brainwashed by potheads’ lies and propaganda.

Pot is definitely more harmful than pot. While cigarette smoke harms only the lungs, pot smoke harms both lungs and brains (especially young brains). And cigarettes don’t cause impaired driving resulting in injuries and deaths, like pot does.

According to columnist Michael Den Tandt, “Data gathered by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (Colorado), established to monitor the effects of legalization, shows a dramatic increase in impaired driving due to marijuana. In 2014, according to a report released in September, the rise in pot-related road deaths was 32 per cent. From 2010 to 2014, the rise in marijuana-related traffic deaths was 92 per cent, compared with an eight per cent increase in all Colorado traffic fatalities over the same period.”

For more news, articles and info about the harms of pot, visit:

And the much-ridiculed old film “Reefer Madness” has been proven to be truthful and correct after all by news and evidence.

I was so excited to have someone engaging in my editorial that it took me a while to write the following response (originally I’d decided not to engage, but how could I resist?):

Thank you for your interesting message.

I’m not sure where you’re writing from or what aspects of my recent discussion on cannabis legalization you’re responding to and choose not to engage you beyond pointing out one thing.

You may wish to look beyond blogs and journalists for your evidence.  I prefer getting my information from respected sources written by researchers whose jobs it is to ask critical questions and then look at the evidence available, like CAMH, or the Lancet, or the CMAJ, all of which come out in favour of legalization due to the way it will reduce associated harms.

I don’t think these peer-reviewed journal article authors are “potheads” nor that their evidence can be called “propaganda.”  I think they are critical scholars who also seek to figure out if a perspective is supported by evidence or not.

I am also not a pothead. I don’t smoke the stuff, never have, and never will. I find people who smoke pot boring, and the smell is disgusting.

I’d rather have a beer.

What I didn’t point out is the fun you can have with stats.  If deaths rise from 2 to 3, that is a 50% increase, but only one additional death (not that any single death should be acceptable, but again, we’re dealing with histrionics). If deaths rise from 1 to 2, that’s a 100% rise.

That said, the RMHIDTA data deals with larger numbers, but the meanings behind those numbers are shaded with caveats about limits to data and the way it’s reported. this, of course, is lost on the correspondent, and also on Den Tandt, the National Post article’s author. (BTW, the RMHIDTA is a passionate anti-drug collective of policing agencies, so don’t expect their stats to be clear or unbiased.

The story is always the same: dig deeper.  

Be critical.  Always.  Ask where the information is coming from, and whether it makes sense.

That also applies to the information I provide here.

After all, this is just another blog.

(c) 2016 Dan Malleck

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