CARBC researcher calls cannabis “the exit drug”

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Philippe Lucas, who works at UVic and as a researcher at the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia (CARBC), presented a seminar titled “Cannabis: The Exit Drug” in the David Strong building during this year’s IdeaFest. His speech focused primarily on a research study he conducted, spanning 404 sets of survey responses collected from four cannabis dispensaries in B.C. He deduced from his findings that cannabis served many as a substitute for alcohol, tobacco, hard drugs like cocaine, and prescription medication.

When conducting the survey, he wanted to “examine the subjective impact of medicinal Cannabis on the use of licit and illicit substances.” The survey revealed that of those 404 responses, 88 per cent, or 356 respondents, used medicinal cannabis daily. Two-hundred-sixty-seven of the surveys that indicated use of cannabis daily also indicated its use as a substitute for other substances. One-hundred-forty-six surveys indicated its use as a substitute for alcohol. One-hundred-twenty-eight surveys indicated its use as a substitute for illicit substances like cocaine or methamphetamine. Two-hundred-thirty-nine surveys indicated its use as a substitute for prescription medication. Respondents’ reasons for the substitutions included that cannabis has “less adverse side effects” and is more accessible than the other substances through lower cost or easier acquisition. Lucas believes that cannabis may viably “provide a substitute for opiates to chronic pain.” He concludes that cannabis use effectively reduces the desire and need for more detrimental drugs and provides a viable exit from addictions to such substances.

Lucas wishes to see the drug (currently legal in medicinal application) be completely decriminalized for several reasons, asserting that it shouldn’t be regarded as criminal. He does, however, want to see a decrease, not an increase, in cannabis use. He doesn’t want it legalized like coffee, but responsibly government regulated and controlled like tobacco.

On a judicial level, legalization can potentially provide many benefits, according to Lucas. By legalizing, or at least regulating cannabis through a system of fines, many criminals could be pardoned or released from incarceration, which would free the courts to prosecute other crimes. In a medical application, addicts could be given cannabis to get them off more harmful drugs, potentially contributing to a decrease in drug-related crimes. As well, Lucas says that cannabis costs much less than current anti-addiction medication, such as methadone, resulting in decreased drug harm-reduction costs.

Lucas says what he calls current “scare tactics” are ineffective methods of reducing drug-related costs and should be abandoned. Furthermore, he says the criminalization of cannabis and its users is ultimately more detrimental than beneficial. If it cannot be completely legalized, Lucas would like to see a system of fines, instead of criminal sentences and criminal records that may limit the futures of illegal cannabis users. Additionally, and simply to decrease use, he wants to adopt “an evidence-based approach [that] can reduce cannabis use in youth.”

According to Health Canada, in 2011, the prevalence of past-year cannabis use among Canadians 15 years and older had decreased from 10.7 per cent to 9.1 per cent. Statistics Canada shows that, as of 2007, cannabis-related offenses accounted for the majority of drug crimes. According to Stats Canada figures, out of 100 000 drug-related incidents, 62 per cent were cannabis related and three quarters of that 62 per cent were for possession.

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