Rona Ambrose - leader of Canada's official opposition and the unofficial opposition leader of cannabis reform - has opened fire on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans to legalize cannabis, which was outlined in the throne speech and elaborated upon in remarks Trudeau made to the media Dec. 17.
In a year-end interview with the CBC, Ambrose made a sweeping statement that bears closer examination for context and accuracy, concerning the health impacts on children and a recent statement issued by the Canadian Paediatric Association.
Early in the CBC interview, the former health minister said legalization could endanger Canadian children:
"It's one thing to decriminalize marijuana. It's another to legalize it in an environment where every day we're receiving more evidence that it's very harmful to young people. Just this week, the Canadian Paediatric Association came out and said, this is a dangerous drug for young people. And especially for little kids. And they said both recreationally and from a medicinal point of view because of the impacts on the developing brain."
Ambrose is referring to a position statement released Dec. 14 by the CPA, which she then oversimplifies and takes out of context to suit her own stance against both the medical and recreational use of marijuana.
The CDA position statement is actually an appeal for physicians to proceed with cannabis treatments carefully. Ambrose has essentially taken that rational commentary and twisted it into an alarm bell.
The statement does not say that cannabis is, "a very dangerous drug for young people," as Ambrose claims. The statement repeatedly stresses that there is evidence of both positive and negative effects of cannabis in medical treatments, but not enough to draw definitive conclusions. It needs further study, and monitoring of patients to understand the benefits and adverse effects.
Medical evidence and biological plausibility suggest that therapeutic use of cannabis may have significant adverse effects in children. Risks should be carefully evaluated over the long-term, using appropriately supported and well designed research into the safety issues specific to children, including development and neuroimaging studies
Rather than preaching against using cannabis in treating children, the statement offers specific guidelines for using the new drug in a careful and responsible manner. The recommendations include evaluating cannabis treatment in children on a case-by-case basis, leaving cannabis prescriptions to doctors with expertise in the use of psychoactive drugs, and prescribing only non-smoking forms of ingestion as smoking could expose patients to harmful carcinogens.
Ambrose is right in saying that the CPA does oppose recreational use among children and adolescents.
"The selective use of cannabis for medical purposes in children must not be confused with condoning its recreational use by adolescents. Strategies to discourage its recreational use among adolescents should be developed on models underway to discourage alcohol and tobacco use in this age group."
But so is every other mainstream advocate and politician, including Trudeau who has repeatedly said keeping marijuana out of the hands of adolescents is a top priority. That's why he's pursuing legalization: to get cannabis off the streets and into a regulated market where adolescents can't access it.