The Canadian government must make it easier to study cannabis, say the country’s top cannabis academics and public health researchers in an open letter to politicians.

“Under widespread global prohibition, cannabis research has been limited by the criminalization and stigmatization of cannabis use and users, leading to substantial gaps in knowledge around the harms and benefits of both medical and non-medical cannabis,” reads the letter sent to federal decision-makers on the letterhead of the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use. 

“For example, although cannabis’ role as a pain reliever is increasingly well known, urgent questions remain about what effect increasing access to medical cannabis might play in the response to the ongoing opioid overdose crisis. Now is the time to ensure biomedical, epidemiological, and social sciences cannabis research is prioritized; supported with adequate funding; and facilitated through reduced administrative barriers.”

The letter was signed by organizations including the BC Cancer Agency and the Canadian AIDS Society, along with researchers like Julio Montaner (renowned for his work on HIV/AIDS) and Mark Ware (a McGill pain researcher and vice-chair of Canada’s federal panel on legalization.)

In the letter, researchers express their concern that not enough is being done to adequately examine Canadians’ cannabis consumption habits before legalization.

Health Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette has said the federal government has already started gathering such data, pointing to a new Canadian Cannabis Survey that will “monitor patterns of and perceptions around cannabis use amongst Canadians, including youth, on an annual basis.”

She also made reference to a recent call for research proposals by the government-funded Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which will award 10 grants of up to $100,000 next March for yearlong projects.

But researchers fear it’s already too late to gather meaningful data ahead of the government’s proposed date for full legalization – July 1, 2018. That’s because grant recipients have to undergo lengthy ethical reviews and recruiting processes, said M.J. Milloy, an infectious-disease epidemiologist studying the therapeutic effects of cannabis at the BC Centre on Substance Use.

“It’s not a quick process and so it will be very challenging,” Milloy said. “We can’t unring the bell as soon as they start selling legal cannabis – that’s it.”

h/t The Globe and Mail