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Canada to Legalize Marijuana by 2017?

A Special Announcement at the UN General Assembly

In a prepared speech to the United Nations in New York City on April 20th (a date referred to by marijuana enthusiasts as 4/20), Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced to attending delegates that the wheels are set in motion for Canada to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

“We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals.”

The special session at the General Assembly kicked off three days of meetings meant to evaluate and review the implementation of the UN’s 2009 Action Plan to combat drugs worldwide. Philpott’s announcement came as a surprise by some, who wondered whether to news was leaked pre-emptively, before the government really has an opportunity to discuss what the legislation might look like and how it will take effect come next spring.

The Last Thing You’d Expect a Cop to Support

Bill Blair, Toronto MP and former chief of police in the city, and the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, is heading up the government’s effort to draft legislation making recreational marijuana legal. Blair was also in attendance during the UN meetings, and attempted to fill some of these gaps, commenting on the measures needed in order to ensure the forthcoming legalization legislation is executed and enforced effectively:

“It’s a great deal of work. It’s important to do it right. And so, we’re looking at regulations with respect to production, distribution, the retail and consumption of marijuana and we want to make sure that it’s based on the best advice from experts.”

What To Do With Current “Criminals”

Lucas Powers of CBC, raises a point echoed by many critics online. If the government is taking legitimate steps towards legalizing marijuana, shouldn’t they cease enforcing the current possession laws that are currently in place? And for those who have already been arrested, charged and imprisoned for marijuana related offences, should they be released and have their criminal records wiped clean?

The current laws are still in effect. So, individuals carrying small amounts of marijuana for recreational use can still be arrested and prosecuted. However, if a major change is imminent, it ”undercuts the whole foundation for arrests and prosecutions,” according to Alan Young, a lawyer and associate professor at Osgoode Hall, and a key proponent in the anti-prohibition movement in Canada.

The arrest and prosecution of individuals for minor drug violations like possession, has long been argued to be a waste of police resources and courts, causing a backlog of cases in the court system that slows things down significantly, potentially denying individual’s their Charter right to due process in an expedient fashion.

The solution being put forth by Tom Mulcair of the NDP party, in a statement made to the House of Commons, is that marijuana should, at the very least, be decriminalized until full legalization is enacted next year.

Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Vaping: Part 4

Vaping: A Safe and Effective Method for Consuming Medicinal Marijuana

Why is vaporizing marijuana better for you than smoking it? The answer may seem obvious for some, but for those of us that are new to vaping cannabis for medical purposes, the answer may not be apparent at first because the act of inhaling is performed when choosing to smoke or vape. So why is one safer than the other?

What Makes Vaping a Safer Alternative?

An article published in the journal PLOS ONE illustrates that electronic vaporizers appear to offer a “safe and effective” method for medical marijuana consumption. The reason for this is fairly intuitive. The advantage that vaporizers have over traditional smoking is that the temperature can be controlled to heat the marijuana only to the point where vapor starts to form, and not past the point where combustion occurs, smoke being the by-product.

The Swiss researchers behind the study concluded:

“As the oral administration of cannabinoids reveals poor and unreliable bioavailability and smoking of cannabis cannot be recommended for medical purposes, alternative efficient and less harmful application modes are needed. Vaporization of cannabis without the formation of potentially toxic pyrolysis products appears to be such an alternative.”

Elizabeth Enochs of Hustle notes that it’s difficult to ignore the obvious: smoking ANYTHING is bad for you. Not because of any inherent chemical properties of what you’re smoking, but because the combustion and inhalation of any plant matter will have adverse effects on your health. She identifies four reasons why vaping should be your preferred method of consuming cannabis.

  1. Vaping Exposes You To Fewer Toxins Than Smoking: The combustion of marijuana results in several known carcinogens and tar, which can lead to lung irritation and chronic bronchitis. Approximate 88% of combusted smoke consists of non-cannabinoids, which means you are consuming far less THC than what is contained in the marijuana itself. But when you vape, 95% of the vapor contains solely cannabinoids.
  2. Vaping Allows You To Inhale Less Smoke Into Your Lungs: This point ties into the previous one. If you’re consuming more THC every time you inhale vapor, the effects of the cannabinoid will kick in faster, requiring less vaping than smoking to achieve the equivalent effect.
  3. Vaping Can Actually Undo The Respiratory Symptoms Caused By Smoking: Vaporizing marijuana can lead to significant improvements to the health of your lungs, according to at least one study of 20 cannabis users.
  4. Vaping Results In Faster Pain Relief: Vaping marijuana, because of the speed at which your body absorbs the THC, can act as a very potent and fast-acting pain relief method.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Could Marijuana be the Cure?

Marijuana is currently being studied to determine whether its consumption can be effective at treating chronic pain, cancers, epilepsy, and Crohn’s disease. But just this year, researcher’s started testing the effectiveness of marijuana for treating Alzheimer’s disease. Many would probably consider this to be counter-intuitive, considering Alzheimer’s predominantly effects memory, and marijuana has been widely known to negatively effect a person’s short-term memory. But the results so far have been very promising.

In late June of this year, Popular Science published the findings of a study by the Salk Institute related to the effects of marijuana smoking and consumption on Alzheimer’s patients. This particular laboratory study was the first of its kind to test tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) against the plaque buildup of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the characterizing pathological markers of Alzheimer’s is the buildup of amyloid plaques, a toxic aggregation of peptides in the neural tissue.

What’s especially fascinating about this study is that, instead of using actual Alzheimer’s patients as test subjects, the scientists involved grew their own neurons in the lab, altered them so that they would develop plaque, and then applied THC and other marijuana compounds in order to study its effect.

The result they observed was that THC was beneficial to the breakdown of the protein buildup, as well as a reduction in inflammation in the cells. ​Neuron inflammation is detrimental to your memory because it makes it harder for your neurons to communicate with one another correctly.

THC isn’t the only compound cannabis has to offer for Alzheimer’s treatment. A study back in 2004 attempted to study the effect of the non-psychoactive cannabidiol – better known as CBD – at preventing cell death. The study found CBD was successful at reducing neurotoxicity caused by amyloid buildup, a phenomenon that was re-tested in 2009, a study that involved a combination of THC and CBD. Researchers of this study concluded with cautious optimism:

“The great therapeutic value of CBD, either given alone or in association with THC, derives from the consideration that it represents a rare, if not unique, compound that is capable of affording neuroprotection by the combination of different types of properties…”

The Liberal Government’s Rationale for the Legalization of Marijuana

Canada’s Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, made a fairly shocking announcement about the future of marijuana legalization in Canada back on April 20th of this year. In front of a group of international delegates at a UN General Assembly, intended to review the execution of the UN’s 2009 action plan on drugs, Philpott declared that Canada, “will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals,” as reported by CBC News

“We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem,” – Philpott

At a recent event hosted by The Economist called the Canada Summit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an impassioned speech discussing the rationale behind his decision to support an initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by next year. Trudeau downplays the obvious economic benefits, stating that the Liberal government’s approach to legalizing marijuana “is not about creating a boutique industry or bringing in tax revenues.”

Trudeau went on to outline the two fundamental principles used to justify his Cabinet’s strategy. The first, having to do with enhanced child safety, a goal also mentioned by Philpott at the UN General Assembly.

“The first one is: young people have easier access to cannabis now, in Canada, than they do in just about any other country in the world. In 29 different countries studied by the UN, Canada was number one in terms of underage access to marijuana.”

Trudeau’s facts are derived from 2013 study by conducted by UNICEF, Child well-being in rich countries: A comparative overview. The 28% figure Trudeau quotes is 4% higher than the next highest country, Switzerland. Emphasis was also placed on the potential health risks marijuana consumption has on a young child’s developing brain.

“The other piece of it is there are billions upon billions of dollars flowing into the pockets of organized crime, street gangs and gun runners because of the illicit marijuana trade.”

The criminalization of marijuana essentially breeds organized crime, forcing criminals to come up with dangerous and occasionally creative ways to circumvent both the law and law enforcement. Legalization eliminates the need for people to obtain recreational pot through illegitimate means, eliminating the need for an underground drug trade to exist at all.

The Path to Legalization of Marijuana in Canada

The Liberal government’s proposal to introduce recreational marijuana legalization by 2017 has drawn both praise and criticism from rival political parties, but none more vocal than the New Democratic Party. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair told reporters at CBC News that he is extremely pessimistic of the policy proposal, calling it “just another broken promise,” and a pandering show of support for former Toronto Police chief and front man for the pot legalization movement in Canada, Bill Blair.

Central to Mulcair’s criticism of the proposal is his argument that current state of the law places marijuana in a confusing grey area, leaving law enforcement unsure as to how to proceed when they encounter public drug use and sale. The ambiguousness of the law also opens a door for commercial marijuana vendors to emerge en masse, a phenomenon most prevalent in the country’s big urban centers. An infrastructure for both the distribution and sale of recreational marijuana is being established in Canada, before the law has had an opportunity to adapt and formally regulate the market.

The solution that Mulcair suggests that would be in everyone’s best interest would be to “decriminalize” marijuana, a designation that is understood by many to be an intermediary step between criminalization and legalization. The words ‘legalization’ and ‘decriminalization’ are often used interchangeably, which can lead to even further confusion, because the two terms stand for two entirely different legal principles. Under a legalized model, marijuana becomes a substance that anyone over a determined legal age can possess and consume it, without the fear of being arrested. No different than how cigarettes and alcohol are treated today. However, in a decriminalized model, people can still be arrested and charged with marijuana-related offences, but possessing small amounts no longer lands the perpetrator with a criminal record or a jail sentence.

His suggestion has some sound rationale behind it, especially when one considers the issues that may arise from arresting someone for marijuana possession now, when, in a year (assuming the Liberals keep to their suggested timeline) the same activity will have no criminal penalty attached to it. Is it fair to arrest someone for a “crime,” when legislative changes are inevitable? Mulcair doesn’t think so.

The Economics of Recreational Marijuana Legalization

The money that could be made from the legalization and taxation of marijuana in Canada is staggering. Weed is a cash cow that requires absolutely no marketing effort – it practically sells itself.

But just how much money could be made if Trudeau’s plan to legalize marijuana for recreational use starting spring of 2017 becomes a reality?

Back in April of 2014, University of Western Ontario professor Mike Moffatt spoke to CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, arguing that marijuana legalization could help Canada’s economy on both side of the ledger, generating a healthy amount of tax revenue while saving the country billions of dollar in law enforcement costs. At that time, legalized recreational marijuana in the state of Colorado (one of four states that has had legalized pot use since January, 2014) was generating $2 million in taxes per month, which works out to roughly $0.40 per resident. If we were to extrapolate this number for Canada’s 30 million residents (conservatively), that would equate to approximately $12 million in tax revenue every month, money that could be put towards funding education and other social services nationwide.

In addition, it is estimated that Canada spends approximately $2 billion every year in police resources for arresting a prosecuting minor marijuana-related offences. An additional savings that could also be better spent elsewhere.

Colorado, one of the four U.S. states that currently has legalized marijuana for recreational use for anyone over the age of 21, presents an excellent case study.

For the fiscal year starting June 30, 2014 to June of last year, the state made approximately $70 million in tax revenue during that time, nearly twice the amount tax revenue brought in from alcohol, at approximately $42 million, according to statistics published by state legislatures and published in Time Magazine. Marijuana in Colorado is currently taxed at Colorado’s data indicated that the 10% for retail sales and 15% excise tax for large wholesale, and the revenue brought in from these taxes nearly doubled initial projections. In 2014, 71.3 million visitors spent $18.6bn in Colorado on marijuana, both record highs, until figures for 2015 are released.

Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Vaping: Part 3

The Long-Term Health Risks of Vaporizing: Public Organizations Take a Side

Evidence to support the claim that e-cigarettes are a less harmful alternative to traditional smoking, as well as evidence to support the opposite, are both available, and convincing in their own right. The conflicting evidence and the lack of longtitudinal studies measuring the prolonged effects of vaporizing, are making it very difficult for politicians and public organizations to decide whether to publicly denounce the product and practice. Opinions in the public sector vary widely, as this article will illustrate.

Public Health England Announces Support for E-Cigarettes as an Alternative to Cigarettes

Back in August of 2015, James Meikle of The Guardian UK reported that Public Health England publicly announced their official support for vaporizing, stating their belief that e-cigarettes are less damaging to health than smoking tobacco. The PHE, in what was billed as a “landmark review” of electronic cigarettes, concluded that e-cigarettes are about 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, and should one day be considered a license medicinal product, a delivery system that could replace other anti-smoking products like gums and patches. They went as far as to say that e-cigarettes “have the potential to make a significant contribution to the endgame for tobacco.”

The Government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, supported the findings, but was quick to point out who that “there continues to be a lack of evidence on the long-term use of e-cigarettes,” pointing to the lack of longitudinal studies that exist examining the health issues that are likely to arise with long term use and exposure to inhaled synthetic e-liquid.

Davies was quoted as saying:

“I want to see these products coming to the market as licensed medicines. This would provide assurance on the safety, quality and efficacy to consumers who want to use these products as quitting aids, especially in relation to the flavourings used, which is where we know least about any inhalation risks.”

American Lung Association Remain Skeptical

The American Lung Association recognizes the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, but is skeptical of their claims of reducing long term health risks. They believe that responsibility should fall on the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide oversight and institute regulations for e-cigarettes in order to “protect children and the public,” especially as the use of e-cigarettes become more popularized among youth.

Health Canada’s Stance on E-Cigarettes

As of March 1st of this year, Health Canada has not regulated e-cigarettes in any way. Which is extremely fascinating, considering the Food and Drug Act stipulates that any product containing nicotine has to be approved by Health Canada before it can be imported, advertised or sold. Therefore, e-liquids that are sold in Canada that contain nicotine are technically illegal, and should not be made available by vendors to individuals of any age.

Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Vaping: Part 2

The Opposing Argument: Vaping May Be Just as Harmful as Smoking

Even though the popular consensus among researchers and physicians regarding the long term effects of vaping electronic cigarettes might be swayed in one direction (that being, e-cigarettes are still harmful, but far less harmful than conventional smoking), there are still some that dispute this claim. The opposing argument focuses on the idea that e-cigarettes are not necessarily less harmful, but instead, are harmful in different ways. People who use e-cigarettes are simply exposing themselves to different chemicals and poisons that carry with them their own risks.

Research Into the Adverse Effects of Vaping

Back in early February at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, Ilona Jaspers of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill made a public announcement regarding some of the findings her and her research team uncovered about the use of e-cigarettes. Her argument is that e-cigarettes are not more or less harmful than traditional cigarettes, but instead, introduce a whole host of different issues.

According to the news report published in Science News, by Janet Kaloff, Jaspers’ research team examined scraped cells from the noses of otherwise healthy people who had a history of smoking, vaping or doing neither.” The activity levels in these cells were compared with 594 genes responsible with the body’s ability to fight infections. The main conclusion of the study was that the cellular ability to combat infection was significantly diminished for both smokers of tobacco and e-liquids.

Kashmira Gander of The Independent, discusses a UK study published in the journal Oral Oncology, which argued that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing efforts would suggest. Dr Jessica Wang-Rodriguez, chief of pathology at the San Diego branch of the US Department of Veteran Affairs and co-author of the research, stated that “evidence to date” shows that e-cigarettes are “no better than smoking regular cigarettes.”

What is “Popcorn Lung”

Another among study conducted at Harvard University looked at the cellular reactions to 51 different e-liquid types, and discovered that the vaping of these liquids is responsible for a rare condition called “Popcorn Lung.” What this disease does is cause the airways in your lungs to narrow, weakening these organs through scarring and inflammation, which could potentially kill if you left untreated. The study found that 75% of flavored e-liquids they tested contained a chemical called diacetyl, which is safe to eat, but toxic to inhale. The chemical is used in artificial butter flavoring, and got its name after several workers at a popcorn manufacturer back in 2000 came down with the affliction.

Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Vaping: Part 1

Vaping: A Harm Reduction Strategy Aimed at Heavy Tobacco Smokers

E-Cigarettes as a “Lesser of Two Evils”

Electronic cigarettes were first invented by Chinese pharmacist back in 2003, grief stricken by his father’s smoking-related death. He believed a better nicotine delivery system could be developed, one that would satisfy cravings without the indulgence being risky or potentially deadly. The inhalation of nicotine is made possible by the heating up a synthetic and non-toxic (equal parts propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin) nicotine-laced “juice” until it becomes vapor.

The debate surrounding the health benefits of vaporizing among researchers, health officials, politicians, and interested consumers, primarily centers around the use of this technology as a harm reduction strategy for heavy tobacco smokers. Vaporizers are being hailed as the first viable alternative to smoking cigarettes, one that provides all the sensations and satisfied cravings of a nicotine delivery system, without the deadly chemicals or tar.

It’s a “lesser of two evils” mindset. The inhalation of any substance, whether it organic or chemical-based, is undoubtedly bad for the human body, and is treated as a given medically. But is the inhalation of e-liquid safer than tobacco, both in the short and long term?

Research Exploring the Toxicity of E-Liquids

A 2012 research paper entitled Levels of selected carcinogens and toxicants in vapor from electronic cigarettes, conducted for the Department of Health Behavior, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences in Buffalo, NY, attempted to shed light on the toxicity levels of vapor produced by 12 brands of e-liquid. The study concluded that the vapor produced by these liquids were not free of toxins, but significantly lower than what you would find in a traditional cigarette.

“We found that the e-cigarette vapors contained some toxic substances. The levels of the toxicants were 9–450 times lower than in cigarette smoke and were, in many cases, comparable with trace amounts found in the reference product . . . our findings are consistent with the idea that substituting tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes may substantially reduce exposure to selected tobacco-specific toxicants. E-cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy among smokers unwilling to quit, warrants further study.”

Another study conducted in 2012 entitled Comparison of the effects of e-cigarette vapor and cigarette smoke on indoor air quality, researchers set out to compare the amount of toxic chemicals in the air after vaporizing both e-liquids and traditional cigarettes within the home. Not surprisingly, they found that e-cigarettes produce a far less conctrated amount of chemicals compared to cigarettes.

“For all by-products measured, electronic cigarettes produce very small exposures relative to tobacco cigarettes. The study indicates no apparent risk to human health from e-cigarette emissions based on the compounds analyzed.”

Back to Basics: Marijuana Practices

Smoking medical marijuana in a joint has always been the most popular method for consuming the drug. Which is surprising, considering how bad joints really are for you. Combustion of cannabis (the burning of cannabis into ash, with smoke being the by-product) fills your lungs with toxic compounds and irritants. And very few people know that you actually get more tar from a joint than you would an equal-sized cigarette. Thankfully, we live in an era where several alternatives exist for delivering tetrahedroncannibol (THC) into your system that are much safer for the user, particularly for those who must consistently consume marijuana in order to benefit from its many healing and therapeutic properties. Here are three alternative methods for consuming medical marijuana that come with far fewer health risks.

  1. Vaporizers

In a vaporizer, marijuana is, for lack of a better word, cooked, at a temperature that allows for the creation of vapor, as opposed to burning marijuana, which produces smoke. Being able to control the temperature at which the plant is being heated can reduce smoke inhalation by as much as 95% according to some estimates. By reducing the smoke, you dramatically reduce the amount of carcinogens and tar that enter into your lungs and bloodstream. And without the burning of any plant material, you will also notice a lot less resin build-up on your teeth, while being to truly enjoy the unique flavor each particular strain of marijuana has to offer.

  1. Edibles

Making yummy snacks and pastries with marijuana as the key ingredient eliminates the need for having to inhale anything, for those with sensitive throats who aren’t fond of coughing or phlegm. The first step in baking Weed Brownies or any sort of edible, begins with the creation of cannabis infused butter or oil, which can be made from home or purchased at medical marijuana dispensaries. The conventional wisdom behind edibles is that the high associated with eating marijuana requires more time to take effect. Which makes sense when you consider that the THC in the food must go through the additional processes of digestion before entering your bloodstream. However, once the high does kick in, it’s believe far more potent than what you’d expect after smoking a joint.

  1. Tinctures & Tonics

A tincture is defined as any medicine that is made by mixing the active ingredient with alcohol. Marijuana tinctures are alcohol extractions of cannabis, containing all 80 of the essential cannabinoids found in the plant. It’s extremely cheap to make, and doesn’t give the user any of the psychoactive effects or high that would normally result from the consumption of marijuana using other methods. The user simply places a few drops under his or her tongue, and the THC gets quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Patients have found this to be an extremely effective method of pain relief, and has been known to effectively treat muscle spasm and epilepsy.