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Cannabis use predicted to bring long-term trouble to Canada

Cannabis use predicted to bring long-term trouble to Canada

With legalization of cannabis behind us and some saying its use will skyrocket, one legal expert predicts Canada eventually will “pay a heavy price.”

With legalization of cannabis behind us and some saying its use will skyrocket, one legal expert predicts Canada eventually will “pay a heavy price.”

More than one in seven Canadians over 15, or about 4.4 million people, were using weed — not necessarily daily — in the 12 months before legalization.

That’s roughly the same number who smoked cigarettes, according to a new report released Tuesday by Statistics Canada that paints a pre-legalization portrait of the country’s weed consumption.

When it comes to daily or near daily consumption, about six per cent of Canadians use cannabis compared to 11 per cent of Canadians who smoke cigarettes.

Spending on legal cannabis is expected to range from $816 million to just above $1 billion by the end of the year.

Western University law professor Robert Solomon, who also has served on the board of the Ontario Addiction Research Foundation and is national director of legal policy for MADD Canada, said rates of cannabis use have been steadily increasing over the last few years.

“There has been a tremendous rise in rates of use . . . in anticipation of legalization,” he said.

Stats published in September projected 5.4 million people are expected to want to purchase legal cannabis in the fourth quarter, and that 1.7 million people will continue to buy illegal cannabis.

“We know that approximately nine per cent of all cannabis users experience some kind of dependency issues over their lives,” Solomon said. “That figure rises to 16 per cent if they start as young adolescents.”

Canada, he said, already had the highest rates of cannabis use among young people.

“Young people tend to be frequent and heavy users,” he said. “We can anticipate a significant number will run into dependency issues of some kind.”

Public health officials in London also worry about the health effects of cannabis on adolescents and young people and encourage both to delay use as long as possible.

“What we know is that cannabis use that begins early in adolescence and if used frequently and that continues over time is associated with an increased risk of harms,” said Linda Stobo, program manager at the Middlesex-London health unit. “Adolescence is that critical time for brain development and the brain doesn’t fully develop until around the age of 25.”

As far as a rise in number of cannabis users, public health officials said they do not have enough data to have a full-fledged opinion of what’s to come.

“We need to be cautious when we are interpreting cannabis data for the next few years and try to understand that some of this increase will potentially come from people that are now honest about a substance they have used in the past because of the change in status with the drugs,” Stobo said.

But Solomon is concerned about the potential down the road for “a very large demand for treatment resources.”

“In light of the fact we don’t have enough treatment resources generally . . . I think we will be creating a significant problem for ourselves,” he said.

Other outcomes related to an increase in cannabis use, he said, include more cannabis-attributed vehicle crashes and cognitive impairment of some young people.

Cannabis, Solomon said, also appears to increase mental health problems among those prone to such problems.

hrivers@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HeatheratLFP



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