Opinion: Canada’s marijuana plan borrows from its approach to alcohol, rather than tobacco—and that could create a commercialized, predatory industry

MACLEANS | Daniel Myran and Ryan Forrest | January 24, 2018

Daniel Myran is a family physician based in Ottawa who is currently completing a Master’s of Public Health at Harvard University, where his research focus is on alcohol-control policy in Ontario. Ryan Forrest is an international tobacco control policy officer at an Ottawa-based NGO who holds an MSc in Global Health and Public Policy from the University of Edinburgh, where her research focused on alcohol marketing to youth in Ontario.

Canada’s plans for marijuana legalization are gradually coming into sharper focus. Bill C-45, or the Cannabis Act, is now at its second reading in the Senate, and federal legislation legalizing marijuana use and sale is anticipated to be finalized this summer. Many of the details of what “legalization” will entail have been left to the provinces, including licensing and overseeing of the sale and distribution of marijuana, and those are now being released.

What we won’t know, however, is the long-term public health impacts of marijuana legalization, at least for many years—though we can make a pretty good guess at how to best minimize potential harms based on Canada’s decades of experience regulating alcohol and tobacco. But as we learn more details of Canada’s approach to marijuana legalization, we worry that these lessons have been ignored—and that the current approach risks creating a highly commercialized and predatory marijuana industry.