Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s chief provincial medical health officer, has joined four former Vancouver mayors and four former B.C. attorneys-general in calling for an end to the criminalization of marijuana.

Kendall and Nova Scotia chief medical health officer Dr. Robert Strang issued a statement today calling on the federal government to enact a health-based strategy towards cannabis. Ottawa should also evaluate taxation and regulation strategies instead of continuing an “ineffective” drug law enforcement approach, they said.

“The fact cannabis is illegal doesn’t diminish access rates. The so-called war on drugs has not achieved its stated objective of reducing rates of drug use. It’s universally available in B.C. and the supply is controlled largely by criminal enterprise,” Kendall told The Sun.

“It should be regulated just like alcohol and tobacco. It [cannabis] is less addictive than either of those.”

Kendall, co-author of a review paper – published today in international medical journal Open Medicine – called Improving Community Health and Safety in Canada through Evidence-based Policies on Illegal Drugs. It was co-authored with Dr. Evan Wood, who is also the co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

“Advocating for drug policy reform has traditionally been politically unpopular, but a recent Angus Reid poll estimated that 50 per cent of Canadians already support legalization of cannabis,” the paper states.

The authors note that nearly 94 per cent of the estimated $426 million spent on Canada’s drug strategy in 2001 went to law enforcement.

“The federal government has recently further prioritized this approach by developing legislation requiring mandatory minimum prison sentences for minor drug law offences,” the paper stated.

Wood told The Sun that some-one charged with possessing more than five marijuana plants could get six months to one year in prison under Bill C-10, which is now before the Senate. “It’s crazy. The federal budget is coming down and everyone is expecting budget tightening and meanwhile we’re investing billions of dollars to lock up non-violent offenders,” Wood said.

“We need elected officials to show real leadership. People are getting shot in the streets [trying to control the illicit drug market]. Prohibition doesn’t work. If we move from a violent, unregulated market to a strictly regulated market, we can go a long way to improving public health.”

Last month, four former B.C. attorneys-general – Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Geoff Plant – called for the legalization of marijuana. Their appeal came after former Vancouver mayors Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell, Philip Owen and Mike Harcourt advocated late last year for an end to prohibition and endorsed the campaign of Stop the Violence B.C. – a coalition of academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts who have been mobilizing to legalize cannabis.

The Urban Public Health Net-work, which comprises the chief medical health officers of the 18 largest cities in Canada, recently endorsed the Vienna Declaration, which calls for an evidence-based drug policy approach in Canada instead of treating illicit drug use as a criminal justice issue. The Vienna Declaration was created in 2010 at an international AIDS conference and has since been signed by more than 23,000 people.


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