Canadian Cannabis Researcher Warns That Legalization Doesn't Make Marijuana Harmless

People are confusing legality with safety when it comes to marijuana, according to James MacKillop, Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University in Ontario.

"Generally, I think the tone of the discourse on the internet tends to be much more favorable to cannabis than balanced in terms of risks associated," MacKillop told The Hamilton Spectator. "That's where a lot of my concerns lie in terms of the impending legalization."

Legalization of cannabis will improve consumer safety through regulations including product testing and labelling. But those regs won't eliminate all the potential risks associated with marijuana use, warns MacKillop. He says just because something is legal does not mean it's safe.

"The reality is there are certainly risks and, although hopefully there will be benefits from legalization, they'll largely be because of the increased capacity to regulate a legal product over an illegal product, not because the drug itself will change by virtue of the law changing."

Beyond this, MacKillop hopes people are paying attention to the research happening on medical marijuana. While medicinal cannabis is being used in Canada and 31 American states to treat a whole host of conditions, most of those treatments are based on anecdotal evidence instead of hard science because there is insufficient research on the health benefits and risks of marijuana. 

MacKillop also took aim at the often touted differences between indica and sativa cannabis strains.

"The reality is there's very little scientific basis for any of these differences in the perceived psychoactive effect."

Science is our friend in the ongoing legalization of cannabis, as more and more researchers are finding support for medicinal as well as recreational use. But we can't expect all the findings to be positive.


Alberta recently announced plans to stop licensing cannabis retailers until Canada's cannabis supply shortage has been resolved—a move some US experts think is the wrong way for the Canadian province to approach the issue. At the end of November, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC), which regulates the province's cannabis industry, said they would temporarily stop issuing licenses for new pot shops. The AGLC says they made that move because the province simply can't get enough cannabis to supply any more stores.

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