What would be the real health impacts, were marijuana to be legalized?
That question was raised at Tuesday night’s Regional District of Nanaimo committee of the whole meeting when Vancouver Island medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback gave a talk about his role.
City of Nanaimo director John Ruttan brought up the subject in light of a call by mayors at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention.
“One of the issues that is very topical is the legalization of marijuana,” Ruttan said. “I don’t know much about the product, except by hearsay, but is there a position that VIHA has on the product from a medical standpoint?
“It’s very difficult when some elected officials have taken a strong position that it should be legalized and I just don’t know the facts, from a medical standpoint.”
In response, Hasselback noted he sits as the chair of an organization that has made a very specific comment on legalization.
“I have spoken publicly on behalf of that organization, which represents all the health officers in the province,” he said.
“That’s not the same as VIHA as an organization, however.”
Hasselback’s statement, made in January at a meeting of the Health Officers Council of B.C., called for regulation of illegal substances such as marijuana to reduce the harm from substance use and the unintended consequences of government policies.
“The Health Officer’s Council and other experts are not saying that marijuana should be legalized and taxed because it is safe,” he said.
“We are saying that proven public health approaches should be used to constrain its use.
“There is now more danger to the public’s health in perpetuating a market driven by criminal activity.”
The comment came as the health officers threw their support behind a group called Stop the Violence B.C., a group made up of criminologists, law enforcement officials and public health officials, which called for an end to the war on drugs in the province.
The group argues that prohibition has failed and enforcement has little impact on drug use, merely fueling the $7 billion illegal marijuana industry.
At Tuesday’s RDN meeting, Hasselback, who fielded the question at the close of his presentation, suggested that his position on marijuana use “would not be a short conversation” and offered to discuss them with Ruttan at a later time.