Frequently Asked Questions

Following are frequently asked questions regarding a study to evaluate potential impacts of cannabis regulation, for FAQs unrelated to such a study, please scroll down.

Why does BC need a study to evaluate the potential impacts of cannabis regulation?

Ideally, a new system of cannabis regulation should be rigorously evaluated to measure for expected benefits (e.g., tax revenue to governments as a proxy for funding removed from organized crime) and closely monitor for any unanticipated harms, such as increased cannabis use. This type of scientific evaluation could inform future policy development in this area and provide insight into tools for enforcement of current and future regulations.

What is the purpose of the study and who will be involved?

Stop the Violence BC proposes that a research group develop and coordinate an ethically approved research trial to assess the impacts of a government-sanctioned cannabis retail establishment for adult recreational cannabis users.

The facility would operate with the objective of improving community health and safety in the following ways:

  1. Reducing the proliferation of hazardous and illegal grow operations that exist as a result of cannabis prohibition
  2. Reducing revenue that currently goes to organized crime as a result of cannabis prohibition
  3. Raising tax revenue to governments – ideally earmarked for underfunded health and social programs including targeted funding for addiction treatment
  4. Assess the impacts of cannabis regulation on users and the local community

It is envisioned that the project be overseen by a steering committee comprised of key stakeholder groups from public health, addiction medicine, police, criminology and government. Together, the steering committee would recruit a team of researchers from leading BC universities to apply to the Federal Ministry of Health for an exemption from Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Once the exemption is granted, the steering committee would ensure timely feedback and communication between local community, policymakers, health officials, law enforcement, business groups, prospective site users and the research team.

Specific details of the project, such as study length, specific location, product sourcing, costs, etc., will be determined by the research group in accordance with relevant municipal, provincial, and federal government guidelines, rules, regulations, and laws.

What is a Section 56 exemption?

The Controlled Drugs and Substances act (CDSA) is Canada’s federal drug control statute which identifies various classes of “controlled substances”. Cannabis is one of these controlled substances.

Under Section 56 of the CDSA, the health minister has the jurisdiction to provide an exemption to the CDSA for a medical, scientific, or public interest purpose. This exemption means that facilities or physicians, under very specific guidelines, may distribute and/or oversee the consumption of an otherwise controlled substance if doing so is of relevance to a matter of medical, scientific, or public interest.

For example, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership, the federal government of Canada has provided Section 56 exemptions to researchers for research studies on prescription heroin in treating opioid addiction and MDMA (ecstasy) in treating post-traumatic stress disorder. For the purpose of this intervention, a Section 56 exemption would be required in order to research the impacts of a pilot trial of taxing and regulating the adult use of cannabis.

More frequently asked questions:

1. If we regulate cannabis, won’t organized crime move into another more dangerous criminal activity?
2. Why not just decriminalize cannabis?
3. Is cannabis more potent than it was in the 1970s?
4. Why not pursue more aggressive forms of anti-cannabis law enforcement?
5. Shouldn’t we be focusing our energy on prevention?
6. Will regulation result in increased cannabis use?
7. Will cannabis regulation in BC hurt US relations and trade?
8. Isn’t cannabis law reform beyond provincial and municipal jurisdiction?
9. We already have alcohol and tobacco. Why add another drug to the problem?
10. Isn’t most cannabis in BC produced for export?
11. If cannabis, why not heroin and cocaine?

1. If we regulate cannabis, won’t organized crime move into another more dangerous criminal activity?

There is no evidence to suggest that cannabis prohibition protects British Columbians from crime and violence by somehow preventing criminals from engaging in other activities.

Organized crime has gravitated to the cannabis trade because of the huge profits and the ease with which this trade evades law enforcement. Rather than protecting British Columbians, cannabis prohibition is
 a key revenue stream for organized crime, which allows gangsters to finance other illegal activities. For instance, the RCMP have noted
how BC cannabis is taken to the US and traded for cocaine that is subsequently sold in Canada.

Eliminating the substantial revenue stream provided to organized crime through cannabis prohibition will deter people from getting involved in the illegal cannabis trade in the first place and will make those who choose to remain in organized crime less able to finance other activities, forcing them into activities that are less profitable and more visible to police.

2. Why not just decriminalize cannabis?

In several places around the globe, cannabis possession and use for personal purposes has been decriminalized. For instance, in the State of California, individuals caught in possession of up to one ounce of cannabis only receive a minor administrative infraction—the equivalent of a parking ticket.

While this saves law enforcement resources, it still leaves an unregulated market to the benefit of organized crime. As a result, violence continues, no tax revenue is generated, and no effective regulatory controls are put in place to limit harms such as cannabis sale to minors. Rather, the only interest of the illegal market is profit, hence the easy availability of cannabis to young people under cannabis prohibition.

3. Is cannabis more potent than it was in the 1970s?

Yes. Under the existing system of cannabis prohibition, cannabis has become many times more potent than it once was.

The increasing potency and decreasing price of cannabis are further evidence of the failure of prohibition, and the increasing potency of cannabis is an important reason to evaluate a regulatory framework. In particular, links between highly potent cannabis and psychosis among young people have been reported, and these reports provide all the more reason to protect young people by regulating this market in the same way we place limits on the strength of alcohol or the nicotine content of cigarettes.

For more information on the increase in potency, we encourage you to check out the US National Institute on Drug Abuse Potency monitoring project report 104. Linked here.

4. Why not pursue more aggressive forms of anti-cannabis law enforcement?

The laws of supply and demand succinctly explain why cannabis prohibition has failed and will continue to fail. For all commodities for which there is demand, including cannabis, any successful effort to reduce supply will have the perverse effect of increasing the value of the remaining supply. This is why any “successful” anti-cannabis law enforcement effort that reduces supply (such as a major drug bust) has the perverse effect of incentivizing new players to begin cannabis production. This explains why drug arrests are often followed by turf wars and more violence.

In the United States, where aggressive law enforcement under the war on drugs has resulted in more individuals behind bars than in any nation in the world, mass incarceration schemes have not reduced the cannabis market or related harms (e.g., violence from drug gangs).

5. Shouldn’t we be focusing our energy on prevention?

Preventing cannabis use is a key priority for Stop The Violence BC. Great strides have been made with tobacco prevention through regulatory tools that can be applied in the context of a legal market. Unfortunately, prevention efforts that have been evaluated to date have not been effective for cannabis use, and the profit motive of organized crime cripples prevention efforts.

Anti-drug media campaigns, which are commonly employed in North America in an attempt to convince youth to avoid experimenting
with cannabis, have proven ineffective through scientific evaluation. Regulation of cannabis is not inconsistent with prevention and, in fact, an effective regulation system that focuses on public health has the potential to reduce rates of use and other harms.

6. Will regulation result in increased cannabis use?

The argument that regulation will increase rates of use is not supported by existing evidence.

Various studies, including a recent global review by the World Health Organization, demonstrate that rates of cannabis use are largely unrelated to national drug policies.

Comparisons between the US and the Netherlands, where cannabis is de facto legalized, indicate that despite the US’s record levels of drug enforcement expenditures, the lifetime rate of cannabis use in the US is more than double that observed in the Netherlands.

Similar evidence comes from Portugal, which decriminalized all drug use in 2001 and where rates of cannabis use remain among the lowest in the European Union.

The actual impact of cannabis regulation on rates of use will likely depend on the models of regulation and the cultural changes they bring about. For instance, Switzerland’s implementation of a regulated heroin market through a medicalized prescription program was associated with a marked decline in heroin use attributed to increased negative attitudes towards heroin among Swiss youth.

It is arguable that cannabis prohibition itself contributes to, among other things, the glamour of cannabis use among rebellious youth. Taking the glamour out of the illegal cannabis market is a key objective of Stop The Violence BC.

7. Will cannabis regulation in BC hurt US relations and trade?

Cannabis policy in the US is reforming at a faster pace than in Canada.

On July 1, 2011, Connecticut became the 14th American state to decriminalize personal use of cannabis. In California, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis is only a minor infraction similar to a traffic violation. In 2010, a ballot initiative aiming to “Tax and Regulate” cannabis in the State of California was narrowly defeated and, to date, there are six states with similar initiatives underway for the 2012 election.

US Democrats and Republicans recently joined together to table a bi- partisan bill in Congress that would allow states to legalize, regulate, tax and control marijuana without federal intervention. While this most recent bill may not pass, with public opinion shifting in the US, polls suggest cannabis regulation will become a reality in some US states in 2012.

Regardless, Canada is a sovereign nation and, like Mexico, is experiencing gang warfare and other harms as a direct result of cannabis prohibition and the heavy demand for cannabis in the
US. Like their US counterparts who are working to address the unintended consequences of cannabis prohibition, BC politicians should demonstrate leadership in addressing these longstanding concerns by supporting evidence-based alternatives.

8. Isn’t cannabis law reform beyond provincial and municipal jurisdiction?

Local and federal political leadership is urgently needed to address
the unintended consequences of cannabis prohibition. While all of Canada would benefit if the federal government took an evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of cannabis prohibition, it is unlikely that this leadership void will be filled by the current government.

The province’s hands are not tied when it comes to reform. Given the serious problems stemming from organized crime and violence in BC secondary to cannabis prohibition, it would be unwise of local politicians to further ignore this pressing issue by citing federal jurisdiction and thereby missing the opportunity to work towards change. Stop The Violence BC is calling on local municipal and provincial politicians to move to address these issues now.

9. We already have alcohol and tobacco. Why add another drug to the problem?

We can no longer ignore the harms of the extensive illegal cannabis market that exists alongside the legal market for alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. This illegal market has proven resistant to law enforcement’s best efforts to control it. A regulatory model, while not perfect, offers a range of advantages over the current system of cannabis prohibition.

10. Isn’t most cannabis in BC produced for export?

Yes. The majority of cannabis produced in BC is exported to other parts of Canada and the US. However, the domestic market in BC is still large enough to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to organized crime groups—or to the provincial government in the form of taxation, were this market regulated.

The ultimate solution to address the export market for cannabis grown in BC is regulation of cannabis in destination markets. Regulated market models may emerge in the US after the 2012 federal election, and we hope that the Stop The Violence BC campaign will ignite a vigorous debate in Canada. If BC is able to regulate cannabis and in so doing reduce organized crime and raise tax revenue—without producing unanticipated harms—this would set an example that ideally would lead to policy change in destination markets.

11. If cannabis, why not heroin and cocaine?

The tendency to portray all illegal drugs as equivalent has contributed to the failure of the war on drugs. Unique strategies to address the harms of substances should be individually tailored.

Stop The Violence BC welcomes a dialogue about the unique criminal justice, public health and regulatory tools that could be employed to address the harms of each illegal drug. However, while cannabis is grown locally in substantial quantities, heroin and cocaine must be imported, with much higher profits to be made, therefore, through the sale of cannabis. And, unlike the large domestic market for cannabis, estimated at more than 430,000 users, the market for heroin and cocaine in BC is a fraction of that size. This explains why cannabis prohibition has made such a key financial contribution to the growth of organized crime in this province and why Stop The Violence BC is focusing its efforts on the illegal cannabis trade.