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Quebec raises cannabis consumption age, but will minors quit kush?

Despite the government’s intentions, raising the legal marijuana smoking age may not be as efficient as thought.

The Quebec government passed a law to raise the legal smoking age of marijuana from 18 to 21 in December 2019. Since January 2020, no one under the age of 21 is able to purchase, possess or smoke pot.

The law was introduced in Bill 2, which was sponsored by Minister of Health Lionel Carmant.

As an ex-pediatric neurologist, Carmant’s concerns for the youth-led to his introduction of this legislation. Research done by the Canadian government shows that smoking marijuana before the brain matures has consequences, as it negatively impacts the development of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex controls things like memory, learning, making decisions and judgment. In an email exchange with the Concordian, Carmant said the increased likelihood of getting stimulation psychosis, which can occur from consuming too much cannabis in minors.Carmant hopes to give a “clear message” to teens and young adults. According to him, “cannabis is a harmful substance” that should be avoided.

“We will not compromise the safety of the youth because of an illegal market,” Carmant  said.

Louie, a Montreal drug dealer who is using an alias, started selling weed as a first year university student. Due to “shitty” residence food and not having enough money to buy better food regularly, Louie began to sell weed.

While he does not know where his weed comes from, Louie is confident in the reliability and safety of black market bud. However, buyers have to be smart about it, and be wary of prices. “If you’re getting five dollars a gram or something from some sketch motherf*cker, then you’re probably getting some synthetic shit,” he said. Louie sells a gram of weed for $10, and his customers’ ages range from 17 to 30.

Contrary to Louie, social worker Lindsay Faul sees some danger in black market weed and underage weed consumption itself. She cites brain development and the quality of black market weed as concerns related to underage smokers in Montréal.

Weed can be risky for consumers; one of the risks is the uncertainty regarding the amount of THC in illegal weed. According to the Canadian Government’s website, higher amounts of THC can heighten or prolong effects of confusion or anxiety.

Quebec is now the only province that has a higher age limit to purchase cannabis than tobacco or alcohol. Faul does not agree with the decision to have varying legal purchasing age. “I believe that all three of these substances should be treated the same,” Faul said. “Either make all three legal at 18 or all three legal at 21.”

Faul continued by explaining the difference between the dangers of tobacco, weed, and alcohol. While all three have setbacks, “tobacco and cannabis are similar in the sense that they typically cause the most harm to our respiratory system,” she said. But cannabis is less dangerous when it is ingested in other forms. “Alcohol, on the other hand, negatively impacts all the systems in the body,” she added.

Both long-term drinking and heavy drinking can lead to many types of diseases, and can cause damage to organs like the heart, pancreas and liver. While tobacco and cannabis both negatively impact the respiratory system, tobacco affects much more of the body. A diagram by the Canadian Cancer Society shows that tobacco smokers have a higher chance of developing cancers in the mouth, lungs, liver, bladder, and more. Tobacco consumption, while dangerous, is also easy to avoid. The Canadian Cancer Society writes that tobacco is “the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada.” Secondhand smoke from tobacco is also dangerous. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, second hand smoke inhalation increases the likelihood of getting lung disease, a heart attack, and stroke. body, and nicotine––what gives users their high––is very addictive.

More research needs to be done to learn about the correlation between smoking cannabis and developing cancer. However, the Canadian Cancer Society writes that some cancer patients use medical marijuana to relieve symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists both alcoholic beverages and all kinds of tobacco exposure in its list of carcinogenic substances to humans.

So how will the Quebec government restrict these dangers from the youth? According to Carmant, the battle against underage tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption is one that society has been fighting for “decades.”

Carmant also said his government will focus on keeping weed out of the hands of youth. “We now have the opportunity to strengthen laws that will prevent illegal cannabis sales in five or 10 years,” he said. “We strongly believe that Quebecers must be made aware of the effects of this substance–especially young people.”

 

Photo by Jad Abukasm

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News

Concordia master’s student studies the effects of cannabinoids on the immune system

It’s been a year since cannabis has been legalized in Canada, and the drug is being widely used across the country.

In the second quarter of 2019 alone, Statistics Canada reported that almost 5 million Canadians have reported using cannabis. Since it was only recently legalized, there hasn’t been much research on it or the effects it has on users.

“So many people are using it, so how do we not know exactly what it’s doing to our bodies?” Concordia Psychology MA student, Norhan Mehrez asked. She said it was shocking to her that we still don’t fully understand the mechanism behind some of its effects.

Due to this lag in research, Mehrez said she took it upon herself to study the effects of cannabinoids on people, with a focus on the immune system.

Mehrez’s research is an intersection of three fields: the immune system, circadian rhythms and cannabinoids (THC, CDB and synthetic cannabinoids).

With the help of co-supervisors Shimon Amir, from the department of psychology, and Peter Darlington, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, Mehrez aims to understand how cannabinoids affect timekeeping in the immune system.

“We know it affects the immune system in several ways, we know that it may affect timekeeping in different tissues in the body,” said Mehrez. “I’m expecting that [cannabinoids] play some sort of role in maintaining an optimal balance in immune function. We know that cannabinoids affect the immune system, but the actual mechanisms of how it’s having those effects isn’t fully understood.”

The link between circadian rhythms and immune system

Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycles in the body that regulate different organs and functions. An example of this is the sleep-wake cycle, which repeats every 24 hours. Mehrez explained we have circadian rhythms in a lot of functions of the body, including the immune system. We also have genes, called clock genes, that ensure the regulation of the circadian rhythm of certain functions, depending on the body’s perceived time of day. The clock genes “keep time” by rhythmically activating along a 24-hour cycle, which in turn leads to rhythms in many bodily processes.

Mehrez explained your immune system seems to function optimally at certain times of the day, where your immune response to fight a pathogen is the strongest, and where you may be more likely to heal from a wound. This is where the immune system and circadian rhythms are tightly linked.

Mehrez said when a person’s sleep-wake cycle is disrupted by working the night shift for example, this also affects other circadian rhythms in the body. Those workers are more likely to develop disorders of the immune system because their time keeping is thrown off.

“On the other hand, if you compromise the immune system in animals or in people, we see that some of their circadian rhythms get disrupted as well,” Mehrez continued.

The link between circadian rhythms and the immune system has been recently investigated, though research is still being done. Mehrez said she wants to learn how cannabinoids affect the immune system as it keeps time.

Research

Mehrez got funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for her research. She said they recruit healthy participants and screen them to have normal sleep cycles by using different questionnaires. They also have questionnaires to understand their drug habits. The participants’ blood is taken from them once screened and Mehrez then isolates the T cells, a subtype of white blood cells that detects the presence of a foreign invader in the body and creates an immune response to attack it.

Mehrez adds different cannabinoids to the isolated T cells, such as THC, CBD and synthetic cannabinoids, activates the T cells to stimulate an immune response and measures the reaction of the cells every four hours, for 36 hours.

They also look at the expression of the clock genes, which continue to show rhythms for some time even after being removed from the body. Once the researchers activate the T cells and add cannabinoids, they will see whether the cannabinoids affect clock genes and rhythmicity in the T cells.

“Are the cannabinoids going to help cells go back to normal time keeping or are they going to make time keeping worse? We don’t know,” said Mehrez.

Mehrez said, through her research, her team is hoping to uncover whether cannabinoids will help maintain normal time keeping under conditions known to disrupt it or if it will they cause further disruption.

There is a system in the body that has receptors for cannabinoids, generally involved in maintaining balance. For example, maintaining a body temperature of 37º C.

Mehrez said that from past research her team knows that cannabinoids also lowers immune system activity, which could be bad for someone who’s trying to fight off an infection or a cold, because we become more prone to viruses when our immune system is lowered or suppressed. “But it can be a good thing for people who have autoimmune illnesses, because their problem is that their immune system is attacking their own body. Cannabinoids are being shown to be useful in autoimmune illnesses because they are immunosuppressants and because they don’t have many known negative side effects. So, it seems to be very promising as a potential treatment so far.”

“I’m hoping that understanding how [cannabinoids] affects timekeeping [could] give us insight on how it affects the immune system,” said Mehrez.

Mehrez said that understanding how cannabinoids affect T cells will bring her closer to understanding how they affect overall immune function in healthy people. She added she hopes this research can be followed up to understand how cannabinoids might play a role in autoimmune illnesses.

 

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

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Briefs

World in Brief

The Amazon forest has been burning for the past four weeks at an alarming speed. In July only, areas of the forest were being cleared at a rate of five football fields a minute according to The Guardian. While there is only a portion of the forest on fire, experts estimate that 2019 might be the most destructive year for the Amazon in 10 years.

Tension rises as two drones crashed in Beirut’s southern suburb on Sunday, according to Reuters. While Israel has not claimed responsibility for the drone strikes, Lebanese president Michel Aoun claims the attack as “a declaration of war.” The Hezbollah also warned Israeli soldiers at the border to await a response.

President Donald Trump proposed nuking hurricanes before they made landfall in an attempt to neutralize the storms. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest the results would be “devastating,” according to the BBC. “Radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas,” said the NOAA. Trump denied making this proposition in a Tweet.

Chemists will be gathering in San Diego this week to present latest research on chocolate and cannabis. According to new research, chocolate’s properties can throw off potency tests, leading to inaccurate labeling in states where marijuana is legal, according to the Associated Press. Chocolate edibles may contain a way bigger dose of THC than their label, sometimes sending consumers into unexpected trips.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Opinions

The misconceptions of marijuana

Analyzing the misplaced stigma surrounding cannabis consumption

After years of debate, marijuana is finally legal in Canada. On Oct. 17, the first dispensaries opened across the country. This is a massive step toward not only making pot safer and more accessible, but also ensuring a degree of product quality that couldn’t be guaranteed in an unregulated market. That being said, I believe significant progress is still needed in regard to the elimination of the stigma associated with marijuana use.

Certainly, cannabis is by no means a product without fault. Just like everything else, overuse of marijuana can have serious side-effects. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry noted that acute cannabis consumption at a young age has been linked with the inhibition of psychomotor skills, short-term memory, and minor cognitive functions.

There have also been studies aimed at examining and contrasting the overuse of marijuana at a young age with the development of certain mental disorders. While there is a certain correlation, it is crucial to remember that researchers have yet to find any meaningful causality. According to CBC News, Matthew Hill, an associate professor at the University of Calgary Hotchkiss Brain Institute emphasizes that we shouldn’t fall into the stereotypes about pot; instead, we should have faith in the studies being conducted which disprove them.

With all its potential side effects, the stigma around cannabis consumption still massively outweighs the real risks. We live in a world where the majority of the population is comfortable with people drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes (more or less). While people aren’t necessarily okay with others being addicted to opioids or pharmaceuticals, it’s definitely still a very common and accepted pain relief method. Yet some of the same people are still adamantly against the very thought of marijuana.

That being said, alcohol, cigarettes, and pharmaceuticals/opioids are distinctly worse for your health in every aspect and deadlier than marijuana could ever be. Unlike booze, pills or cigarettes, marijuana does not create a chemical dependency in the brain. While attitudes like psychosocial dependency can be developed, the detox period for this is significantly less painful and shorter than the detox period for chemical addiction, according to CBC News.

Another factor to keep in mind is that not a single person has ever died solely due to marijuana consumption, according to Greencamp, a website that researches cannabis use. Not a single one. Ever. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, smoking has killed 37,000 people in Canada this year alone, and opioids have taken 8,000 Canadian lives since 2016 according to CBC News. Marijuana is increasingly being seen as a viable alternative to prescription drugs with research being performed at facilities such as CanniMed and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse on the medical benefits of cannabis. This shows how invaluable it could be for the creation of effective and addiction-free treatments.

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, alcohol consumption also led to the hospitalization of nearly 77,000 Canadians in 2016. Yet pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, and alcohol are accepted aspects of society with no legislation aiming to ban them. Unfortunately, marijuana is consistently demonized, and will remain so for several years to come.

In his book Weed: A User’s Guide, columnist for the cannabis website Leafy and host of the Roll-Up podcast David Schmader explained that a person would need to smoke roughly 1,500 pounds of cannabis in an hour to fatally overdose. According to calculations by the peer-reviewed journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, that would come to about 1,943,965 joints. In one hour. Good luck with that.

At its core, legalization of marijuana takes the first step toward the de-stigmatization of its consumption. Regardless of the potential health benefits or the toxic and deadly products we deem more socially acceptable, marijuana use still has a negative connotation to it. However, with the progressive steps governments are taking to not only decriminalize cannabis, but make it more accessible, one can hope this stigma won’t remain a mainstream concept for much longer.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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News

Marijuana is now legal. What do Concordia students think?

The Concordian asked students around campus about their opinions concerning the legalization of cannabis.

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Opinions

Editorial: The complexities behind the legalization of marijuana

Marijuana legalization is on the horizon. The people have spoken, and as of Oct. 17 they’ll be tokin’. Yet, the legalization process is more complex than simply lifting the ban on getting high; the way it is executed can mean the difference between freedom for citizens and more centralized state power.

Policing marijuana and other substances has been a method of controlling populations—particularly by criminalizing certain groups—for a long time. Enforcing substance laws is often used as a tool by powerful groups to further their goals. This often invokes keeping poor people, racial and gender minorities, and other disenfranchised groups at the lowest of our class structure.

The way the war on drugs campaign started proves this. As admitted by Richard Nixon’s former assistant to the president for domestic affairs John Ehrlichman: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.” This is pretty clear evidence that the prohibition of marijuana is not about any moral issues with consumption of the drug. So legalizing marijuana is clearly a good thing, because it’s a step toward ending arbitrary means of state control.

This is the stance that was taken by the Bloc Pot political party in the recent Quebec election. Their main platform highlighted the prohibition of marijuana as a tool for the state to control and disempower its citizens. While they are in support of legalizing marijuana, they point out the problems with governments controlling that legalization process. The party also advocates for marijuana to be left out of the Criminal Code and the Canadian government’s control completely.

Quebec premier François Legault of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) will soon have to confront the task of implementing marijuana legalization in Quebec. One of the stipulations in his legalization plan is bumping the legal age from 18 (as was previously intended) up to 21. How he implements and regulates the rest of the law will affect more than just the minute details around buying weed; it could be the difference between maintaining oppressive social structures or granting people autonomy.

Legault, who ran on the promise of reducing immigration in Quebec by one fifth and imposing a “Quebec values” test on immigrants, doesn’t have the greatest track record with minorities. The CAQ’s immigration policies are outside the realm of marijuana legalization, but the reality is that generating and maintaining laws about personal issues like consuming marijuana only lends more power to the state to intervene in people’s lives. As essayist Jackie Wang argued in her book, Carceral Capitalism, right-wingers and neoliberals only want reduced state control until it involves policing the lives of minorities—a contradiction no doubt. It is likely that even as marijuana is legalized, it will still be heavily policed/regulated, which will disproportionately affect minority communities. Therefore, we will need to pay attention to the details surrounding legalization and make our voices heard if they are unjust.

The legalization of marijuana will not dissolve problematic structures in society any more than it will cure cancer, but leaving the police out of as many parts of our lives as possible is something that is in the best interest of the vulnerable members of our society, and thus something we should all strive for.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

 

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Opinions

The pot-ential of legalization in Canada

Industry regulations, police resources among factors to consider before July 2018 legislation

The legalization of marijuana in Canada is a major step in the country’s history. This is an issue that impacts society on a fundamental level. In my opinion, how each province handles and adapts to the changes resulting from this legislation will be an important part of the transition.

In July 2018, the Quebec government will officially recognize Bill 172. This bill introduces the legalization of marijuana, along with several key points. Firstly, the legal age to purchase and consume marijuana will be 18 in Quebec, according to CBC News. Secondly, the bill prohibits the growing of marijuana for personal use or growing it for commercial use if it is conducted outside the laws established by the provincial government.

Additionally, under the bill, marijuana can be smoked in areas permitting tobacco smoking, but it will be strictly forbidden to smoke on the property of an educational institution, according to the same source. And, of course, driving under the influence will still be against the law. Anyone caught driving while under the influence, or suspected of being under the influence, could have their license suspended for 90 days or even face jail time, according to CBC News.

Concerned citizens and several Quebec officials are still hesitant about the idea of legalizing marijuana. Some believe that by legalizing it, younger citizens could be influenced to pick up the habit, according to the Montreal Gazette. I believe these concerns are justified.

Even though marijuana will be legalized, the long-time criminal element associated with it remains, and law enforcement officials are striving to postpone its legalization date. They are insistent that the bill must allow for stricter regulations when it comes to managing this new industry. This includes making sure companies and the health ministry have stricter security clearances for employees to avoid introducing organized crime into the legalized marijuana industry, according to the National Post. Many law enforcement officials also believe police require additional training and resources—besides the saliva test, which has yet to be federally regulated—in order to identify and handle impaired drivers, according to CBC News.

While valid points, I believe it’s also important to see the good that this legalization can bring. One major example is that, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, medical marijuana could help combat the opioid crisis. Since 2015, the opioid crisis has become a dangerous problem for Canadians. In 2016, there were over 2,800 reported fatalities in connection to opioid overdoses in Canada, according to The Globe and Mail.

Portugal is one example of successful marijuana legalization. Since 2001, the country has legalized all drugs up to a certain amount, including marijuana, and each legal limit varies per drug. According to Sensi Seeds, a cannabis seed marketing company, carrying up to 2.5 grams of marijuana is legal in Portugal. However, trafficking and cultivating marijuana is still illegal and could result in jail time, according to the same source. Portugal has seen several advantages, including a decline in drug overdoses. Within the European Union, Portugal has the second lowest rate of fatal overdoses, according to the Washington Post.

Make no mistake—I am not saying we should be legalizing all drugs. I am saying that legalizing marijuana may have the potential to do some good within certain communities. By following and adapting our policies to the examples set by the legislations in other countries, Quebec can create policies that provide strict safety and security regulations for marijuana. There is also a potential benefit to people’s health, especially when considering the opioid crisis.

However, such a sensitive issue requires patience. While I wouldn’t say no to the idea, I am saying that we need more time to finalize all the details and appeal to all the groups involved. In my opinion, if we rush this process, the consequences could result in severe social backlash.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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Opinions

Patients’ rights are going to pot: a call for cannabis

Is social taboo the only thing keeping us from medical marijuana?

It is a substance that many politicians have tried, report never enjoying, and certainly never inhaled.

Marijuana has been back in the news as of late due to the opening of Montreal’s first medical marijuana clinic, Santé Cannabis. According to CBC News, Adam Greenblatt, the clinic’s executive director, said the goal is to “help facilitate access to legal sources of medical cannabis to eligible patients who meet certain qualifications.”

The clinic does not sell or distribute marijuana themselves. They simply prescribe it to patients referred to them, who then take that prescription to a licensed distributor.

Santé Cannabis is operating in an ethical grey zone. Although it is not illegal to provide such services, there are no regulations in place concerning administration or prescribed dosages of the substance.

The issue with medical marijuana, and the reason it went through the courts instead of through the standard systems is due to the social taboo surrounding it. As stated above, it is very rare that one will admit in a professional setting that they have enjoyed marijuana use. Silence on the subject is due to its perception as an addictive substance and as a gateway to more severe drugs and to other forms of moral depravity.

The main argument against its use in treatment has been the supposed addictive nature of marijuana.

At the time of writing, studies have been inconclusive on the truth behind this claim, often offering conflicting results. If it were proven the substance is highly addictive, it would be in good company in hospitals everywhere.

Many pharmaceutical drugs already in use are known for their addictive qualities.  According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the most addictive of these are found in opioid based painkillers, which are prescribed commonly under the brand names such OxyCotin, Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, or Demerol. Similarly, many antidepressants are known for their addictive quality, often recommending a period of three to six months to detox.

Clearly, addiction is not something the pharmaceutical industry is unfamiliar with.

On the other hand, if implemented and regulated, medical marijuana may be of great use to many patients.

At the moment, evidence has largely taken the form of anecdotes from doctors working with self-medicating patients. In an interview on Nov. 9 with the Montreal Gazette, Michael Dworkind recalls the positive effects on some palliative care patients at the Jewish General Hospital who suddenly got their appetite back and had improved overall health. “‘Well, doctor,’ they said, ‘I had a toke.’”

If the issue is not the addictiveness or the ineffectiveness of medical marijuana, what is it?

The blame here lies not only in the overall taboo, but also in the negative image of smoking. According to a Concordian (who asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons), “it can be cooked in food or made into tea. I even know someone who takes it as a pill, although that is less effective.”

Perhaps the solution to our society’s general aversion to medical marijuana is simply to produce it in pill form under another name: just like every other medicine.

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Opinions

Puff, puff, pass the ballot

Graphic by Phil Waheed.

The tides are changing in the United States. Along with the re-election of President Barack Obama, Washington and Colorado have also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

This huge step for American culture is facing both praise and criticism from the outside, but I think the legalization of marijuana is ultimately a move that, if done effectively, can have a very positive effect.

Why, then, is marijuana still illegal in the rest of the United States? Maybe it’s because marijuana is a so-called gateway drug? It makes sense that the government doesn’t want citizens experimenting with harmful substances.

Too bad this notion is totally inaccurate. According to The National Academy of Sciences, “there is no conclusive evidence that the … effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that about 76 million adults have tried marijuana and did not become regular marijuana users or go on to try any other drugs. So, that can’t be it.

Maybe the American government is afraid that if they legalize marijuana it will become more mainstream. Perhaps lawmakers feel that the only way to curb the use of the drug is to put in place firm laws against it, but that’s another misconception.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse’s national working group on addictions, most marijuana users believe their use will go undetected, so fear of legal punishment doesn’t act as an effective deterrent. No matter how strict the laws, people have and will continue to use the drug.

A study by the California State Office of Narcotics and Drug Abuse reinforces that “the reduction in penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use does not appear to [be] a factor in people’s decision to use or not use the drug.” So, that can’t be it either.

The bottom line here is that the ‘war on drugs’ cost the United States at the federal level $15 billion in 2010. On top of that, one person every 19 seconds is arrested for violating a drug law. In a country desperate to climb out of a deficit and with the highest incarceration rate in the world (730 per 100,000 people), legalization of marijuana helps take care of both problems.

On the subject of money, the U.S. could make a lot of money from regulating marijuana use, and the longer it remains unregulated, the more money is lost. Harvard University economics professor, Jeffrey Miron, told CNN that if marijuana was taxed at similar rates as tobacco and alcohol, the United States would save about $14 billion per year, based on the decrease in spending against it as well as the taxation of it.

As far as the arrest record goes, the FBI has reported that 52 per cent of drug arrests are marijuana related. That makes for a total of over 850,000 arrests in 2010 according to the FBI. Keeping these people out of jail will have a noticeable effect on the taxpayer’s money. It’s also worth mentioning that out of the 52 per cent, 88 per cent of those arrests are for possession.

And that’s not even mentioning the positive effects marijuana can have medically. The American Medical Association was very vocal against the initial ban of the drug, which had been used for medicinal purposes for more than 5,000 years. Currently, more than 60 American and international medical organizations support the use of medical marijuana.

And yet, despite all of this evidence in its favour, marijuana continues to be illegal in most of the United States.

Much like the reversal of prohibition, this opposition against marijuana is going to give in eventually. Now is the time for the American federal government to step up and make this happen. Their constituents and their wallets will thank them for it.

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