Re: “Sen. Unger relies on incomplete representation to argue her case against marijuana legalization,” (The Hill Times, Jan. 8, p. 8), “Sen. Unger’s got it wrong on marijuana legalization,” (The Hill Times, Jan. 24, p. 8). The Trudeau government has tabled Bill C-45, which, if passed, will legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana and—incredibly—make Canada the first developed country in the world to take this dangerous and harmful path. We would be foolish to rush forward with this toxic legislation without a fulsome examination and open debate, which must include credible sources for any claims made by either side.

Therefore, I welcome the responses to my Dec. 20 commentary in The Hill Times (“Marijuana legislation will not achieve its objectives and should be defeated,” online), but am compelled to refute allegations that my commentary contained “many unsubstantiated or categorically false claims” or that it was “false and deceptive.”

The writers began by asserting that legalization has not impacted marijuana usage among high school students. This is incorrect. Legalization has spectacularly failed to reduce youth consumption of marijuana in the United States. Youth usage is now the highest in states that have legalized marijuana, and the latest U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows 12- to 17-year-old children in Colorado leading the country in first use of marijuana. While tobacco and alcohol use have been steadily dropping for years, marijuana has stubbornly resisted this trend with more U.S. youth now using marijuana than cigarettes.

Here in Canada, youth usage of tobacco is also at an all-time low, achieved primarily through de-normalization and education. A similar approach should be taken for marijuana: start an aggressive campaign to inform and educate Canadians about the danger marijuana poses, especially to youth, and move towards decriminalization, not legalization. As noted by Michael DeVillaer from the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research at McMaster University, “Decriminalization has a long, world-wide track record of not increasing cannabis-related problems while improving social conditions by reducing arrests, with substantial savings for the enforcement and justice systems. Legalization has no such track record.”

The writers also alleged that no significant public health issues have arisen from legalization in the state of Colorado. Yet a 2017 study presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies revealed that marijuana-related emergency room visits by youth had quadrupled at the Colorado Children’s Hospital. In 2016, the Denver District Attorney, Mitchell Morrissey, reported that, “Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado in 2013, traffic-related marijuana deaths have increased 48 per cent, marijuana-related emergency room visits have increased 49 per cent, and marijuana related calls to the poison centre have increased 100 per cent.”

The American College of Pediatricians has also sounded the alarm, writing, “Although increasing legalization of marijuana has contributed to the growing belief that marijuana is harmless, research documents the risks of its use by youth are grave. Marijuana is addicting, has adverse effects upon the adolescent brain, is a risk for both cardio-respiratory disease and testicular cancer, and is associated with both psychiatric illness and negative social outcomes.”

Regrettably, space prevents me from addressing all of the points raised by those who responded to my op-ed. However, my original commentary can be found on my website at complete with extensive footnotes sourcing each statement of fact. I invite your readers to read it and examine the evidence for themselves.

Alberta Senator Betty Unger