Cannabis use was legalized in Canada in October 2018, with the aim of improving public health and safety related to cannabis and reducing youth access and illegal cannabis-related activities. Some health experts worried that legalization could have harmful effects on public health. If this is not the case, “the evidence for the public health benefits of legalization remains limited,” concludes Dr. Benedikt Fischer from Simon Fraser University.
“The legalization of cannabis in Canada does not appear to have been the public health disaster expected by some opponents, but neither can it be described as an unambiguous public health success.”
The health problems associated with cannabis have not really diminished
Analysis of Canadian health and hospital data shows that:
- Cannabis use disorders, cannabis-related emergency room visits and admissions, and cannabis-related driving impairments have remained at the same levels since legalization;
- However, “on the other hand,” most cannabis users now obtain their cannabis from legal rather than illegal sources, and cannabis-related arrests, as well as the personal burden of stigma and possible prosecutions and judicial records, have decreased significantly.
Taken together, these data suggest, according to the authors,
“important benefits in terms of social justice that can also have indirect positive effects on health.”
Researchers are also calling for these societal benefits to be taken more into account in future evaluations of legalization. Continuous monitoring of cannabis use among adults, adolescents and those at risk, as well as serious health outcomes such as cannabis use disorders, cannabis-related injuries, hospitalizations or emergency room visits, and related crime and other socioeconomic indicators remains necessary to better clarify the mixed effects of legalization so far.
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