New marijuana guidelines target safer use

Similar to alcohol usage recommendations introduced in ’90s

By Bradley Bouzane, Postmedia News September 23, 2011

New guidelines were published this week that promote safer use of marijuana.

The low-risk use guidelines, which are similar to alcohol guidelines introduced in the 1990s, are set to be published in the September/October issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health and offer safer usage practices for those who choose to use the drug. The study’s lead author says that while it will take some time for the guidelines to ingrain themselves into public thinking, they are necessary because of the prevalence of marijuana use in Canada.

« (Acceptance of the guidelines) will take some time, but the same situation existed when the low-risk drinking guidelines came about, » said Benedikt Fischer, a scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. « In the beginning, they were quite controversial, and it took them a while to get established . and today they are fundamentally accepted public-health policy and practice tool in alcohol. »

The release of the guidelines comes the same week the federal government introduced its Safe Streets and Communities Act, an omnibus bill that combines crime measures from nine other bills.

While some features of the bill crack down on crime and lock away dangerous offenders, the way it deals with marijuana producers – even those with as few as six plants – has come under some criticism. The government intends to lock up everyone caught growing six or more pot plants for at least six months. The maximum penalty will be 14 years.

Despite the risks taken by growers and those who possess marijuana, Fischer is confident legal change to reduce the penalties – if not eliminate them – will happen eventually. But not any time soon. « This government won’t (change) and I won’t try to battle with them, » he said. « This is part of their ideological core and so be it.

« I think it’s just a matter of time until the law will follow the public’s will and opinion on this issue. »

The low-risk guidelines for alcohol offer advice as to the safest levels of consumption for various groups, depending on age and medical status. They also advise against some practices, such as drinking and driving. For cannabis, the plant which marijuana comes from, many of the guidelines are cut from the same cloth.

In the guidelines, which have been endorsed by the Canadian Public Health Association, it is advised that:

-Some groups – including pregnant women, middleaged and elderly individuals with cardiovascular issues and those with a family history of psychosis – should abstain from use completely.

– Use of marijuana be delayed until late adolescence (16 years of age) or adulthood to quell the ill effects of pot use on the developing brain.

– Frequent use, which is de-scribed as daily or near-daily use, be avoided.

– Full avoidance should be exercised by those with difficulties controlling their level of use.

– To best reduce respiratory and cancer risks, marijuana should not be mixed with tobacco and the use of a vaporizer would be more ideal than the use of more common smoking mechanisms, such as joints and pipes.

– Marijuana users should wait at least three to four hours after use – or longer if effects are still felt – before driving.

« This behaviour has been part of our social fabric for more than half a century (with) high prevalence levels and will likely remain so, » Fischer said, stating that the purpose of the study was not to promote marijuana use.

« There are simple ways here to reduce risks and harms and I think there’s a natural hesitation to push this . because of the legal status of the drug . but until a few decades ago, being gay was illegal, trying to commit suicide was illegal, abortion was illegal . but we eventually realized these things should be thought about as personal choice or health issues and we changed our approach gradually, in the interest of public health. That’s what we’re trying to do here. »

Representatives from the federal Justice Department were not available for comment Thursday.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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