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Canada’s Catholic bishops warn against marijuana legalization

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Trying to solve a drug problem using drugs can only cause more issues
By Deborah Gyapong


Canada’s Catholic bishops have issued a warning about the dangers of legalizing marijuana or cannabis.

The CCCB issued a statement April 12, one day before the Liberal government announced the introduction in the House of Commons of the Cannabis Act, to eventually “legalize, regulate and restrict access” to marijuana.

“From the standpoint of public health, not only does this course of action appear to be unwise, it is potentially dangerous,” said the statement signed by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby. “The very significant health risks associated with the use of cannabis are widely recognized, particularly in young people.”

In addition to all the risks associated with tobacco smoke, such as heart attack, stroke, and cancers, marijuana is linked to a heightened risk in “a multitude of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia,” the statement said. It also described marijuana as a “gateway drug” that often leads to the use of more powerful illegal drugs.

“At a time when so many resources are already being spent to discourage recreational tobacco use, it is difficult to comprehend the disregard for public safety entailed in legalizing marijuana, which is arguably much more dangerous,” the bishops’ statement said.

At a news conference featuring Health Minister Jane Philpott, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, and Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, the government promised to beef up penalties for those who sell cannabis to those under 18 and to tighten up impaired driving laws.

“Youth are at the centre of the effort,” Philpott said, acknowledging the health risks of cannabis to those whose brains are still developing. She also noted the government already had a public education investment of more than $9 million to discourage marijuana use in its recent budget.

Minister Goodale said if the objective of the existing laws was to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors and to stop organized crime, they have been an “abject failure.”

Canadian teenagers are among the heaviest marijuana users in the western world, he said. At the same time, “criminals pocket about $7 to $8 billion in profits.”

The proposed legislation “will do a better job of protecting our kids and fighting organized crime,” he said.

Blair said the legislation will be directed “toward more healthful, safer and more socially responsible use,” so the decision to sell or not to sell is not “being made by some gangster in a stairwell.”

The legislation will beef up penalties for impaired driving and include mandatory testing, even without a reasonable suspicion on the part of police. Minister Wilson-Raybould said she believes the mandatory testing will pass constitutional challenge.

The bishops included concern about alcohol abuse in their statement, calling it the most common form of “chemical addiction,” costing costs society an estimated $14.6 billion a year.

The bishops’ statement tackles Canada’s “serious substance abuse crisis,” particularly the “alarming” increase in deaths due to overdoses on new forms of opioids. It examines the underlying causes, such as poverty, family breakdown, violence and underlying mental illness.

The bishops also examine the high rates of abuse in Indigenous communities due to intergenerational trauma.

The CCCB statement opposes “harm reduction” models such as needle exchange programs, or “safe” injection sites, quoting Pope Francis who said, “The problem of drug use is not solved with drugs.”

The bishops said, “Governments have a moral responsibility to ensure that, in addressing this crisis, communities be equipped with universally accessible and up-to-date rehabilitation methods and recovery programs.”

In addition to offering recommendations on how government and society could combat the drug addiction crisis, the bishops conclude with Jesus’ role in healing. “Persons who suffer from addiction should take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus wishes them to be well and that the Lord continues to pour forth his grace and blessings upon us.” That same hope applies to caregivers, they said.

The full statement is available at the website. q


Last Updated on Monday, 24 April 2017 08:04  

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