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Last month, Health Canada posted a video on YouTube highlighting the risks of marijuana use among teenagers. The 30-second clip is part of the federal government’s $7-million “Preventing Drug Use” campaign and depicts a brain slowly eroding due to marijuana smoke.
The ad immediately received a lot of negative attention, with people complaining that many facts and figures quoted were pseudo-science at best. Implied in the ad, endorsed by the Conservatives, is a direct attack on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s pro-legalization stance. The political connotations are clear and the ad was described as mere propaganda to further debase Trudeau’s image prior to next year’s federal election. Judging by the reaction to it, many taxpayers feel that the ad employs age-old scare tactics that don’t warrant the price tag, while politicizing the issue of public health.
Numerous studies agree that long-term marijuana use has an adverse effect on an individual’s health. Heavy users, as claimed by the ad, show signs of memory loss and learning problems. In extreme cases, psychotic episodes can also be triggered. However, there isn’t a consensus on pot’s short-term effects or even what amount and duration constitutes abuse. Very little scientific literature on marijuana exists in Canada due to its illegal status. Controlled trials and extended experiments of its use are not possible, leading to an increased risk of misinformation being spread.
Last month, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) called for legalization of marijuana in order to control its sales and monopolize the market. It claimed that regulating sales would make the use of the drug safer and allow easier access to medicinal marijuana. The ad seems to be the government’s response to CAMH.
The Stephen Harper government had pledged $570 million to its National Anti-Drug Strategy upon getting elected in 2006. The government’s stance is clear: drugs harm public health and need to be eradicated. The irony is that the government not only ignores, but endorses, one of the most lethal substances on the planet. It’s a product that raked in an estimated $21 billion last year across Canada.
Alcohol use results in more deaths than lung cancer and more hospital stays than every other substance combined, according to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse. It increases chances of strokes and heart diseases while causing extensive kidney and liver damage in the long run. In fact, many scientific studies have listed alcohol as more dangerous than cocaine and heroin, while ranking marijuana significantly lower in terms of physical risk.
Alcohol is not targeted under the Anti-Drug Strategy program. The contradiction is clear. Public health is at the forefront only if illegal drugs are involved. Though marijuana can be harmful, this seems to be a case of the kettle calling the pot black.