More than 100 people filled the large lecture hall at the U of A on Thursday to hear one researcher talk on cannabis and some of the myths attached to it.
Elaine Hyshka, substance use researcher, gave a talk called Legalizing Cannabis: Clearing the Smoke.
She said perspectives surrounding cannabis are typically polarized. It’s usually viewed as either an illicit drug that should be banned, or as a cure-all.
“Cannabis legalization is happening in Canada. It’s a really interesting thing and potentially uncertain time and I think there’s a lot of misinformation and understanding in terms of the drug itself,” she said.
Hyshka has been studying the topic for a number of years. She said very little is known about the drug in terms of risks and benefits.
But from what is currently known, she said there are dangers associated with cannabis use.
She said cannabis use can lead to onset of schizophrenia and other psychosis, cause motor vehicle crashes, can result in low birth weight for pregnant women who consume the drug, can cause respiratory issues and lead to addiction.
Alternatively, studies have shown that cannabis can be used for chronic pain, as an anti-nausea treatment for cancer treatment and aid in treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Jamie Boisvenue, graduate student at the U of A, asked Hyshka about cannabis in relation to being an anti-inflammatory drug and it’s effect on people who have depression, anxiety and PTSD.
“It seems like a very large spectrum, people seeking out cannabis use as sort of a last-resort or the only effective treatment for anxiety and PTSD, but on the other side of the spectrum, people using cannabis for pain but then develop anxiety disorders,” he said.
Hyshka said not enough research has been conducted around those areas, and that the government has been firm on keeping medical marijuana and recreational cannabis use separate.
When it comes to criminalizing the drug, Hyshka said there are negative repercussions.
“There are huge racial disparities in how we enforce that law, and so there are a lot of people who were arrested for cannabis possession at a much higher rate than other populations, and that’s not fair.”
Those who are criminalized for using and possessing cannabis have a difficult time finding employment, are unable to travel, don’t often seek help and it fuels organized crime and promotes drug market violence, she said.
In addition, there’s a greater increase of people consuming contaminated cannabis, since it’s not being regulated.
Currently more than 50 per cent of all drug offences in Canada are related to cannabis possession, she said.
Deanae Strelau, psychology student at the U of A, asked what would happen to those who have been charged with possession of cannabis.
Hyshka said she felt criminalizing people for cannabis use can ruin lives.
“I would like to see those charges absolved,” she said. “But again from the administrative perspective I know that’s going to be really hard because of the way that they keep the records.”
She said the best approach to legalizing cannabis is a public health approach. Under the approach, the government would focus on prevention, harm reduction, treatment and regulation.
Additionally, she said the government should not be capitalizing on legalizing cannabis by promoting it as an economic opportunity.
The federal government unveiled its Cannabis Act, which sets a legal age limit of 18, allows people to grow up to four plants in their home, permits people to carry up to 30 grams of dry cannabis and criminalizes the sale of cannabis outside of the regulatory framework.
Edibles, which is cannabis that can be eaten, will be added to the roster in 2019.
The Alberta government has decided to take a hybrid approach to the act. The minimum age will be 18, the AGLC will regulate distribution and sales, but retail stores will be privately owned, while the government will regulate online sales.
For more information on the Alberta Cannabis Act, visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/introduction-cannabis-act-questions-answers.html