City council heard some facts about marijuana use at its Monday, March 4 meeting when addictions expert Dean Nicholson talked to council about the pros and cons of legalizing the substance.
The discussion came about after council voted on decriminalizing marijuana alongside other B.C. municipal officials at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention last September.
Councillors Angus Davis and Sharon Cross voted in favour of decriminalizing marijuana; Councillors Gerry Warner and Denise Pallesen voted against. Councillors Diana J. Scott and Bob Whetham and Mayor Wayne Stetski were not present for the vote.
On Monday, Nicholson came to council as a delegation to provide some statistics about marijuana use in the East Kootenay.
“I thought council would be interested in some updated information around marijuana use in our region,” said Nicholson, administrator of East Kootenay Addiction Services Society (EKASS).
In its 2011 survey of East Kootenay students in Grades 7 to 12, EKASS found that 30 per cent of all students had used marijuana before, and 26 per cent had used it in the past year. That was down from 2005, when 38 per cent of students reported using marijuana at least once.
Nicholson said that currently, most efforts around controlling marijuana use are around the legal implications. In 2004, around 70 per cent of federal spending on illicit drug use was on law enforcement, three per cent on prevention, three per cent on harm reduction, and 14 per cent on treatment.
Marijuana production and distribution is mostly in the hands of organized crime, Nicholson pointed out, which leads to gang crime and trafficking of “harder” drugs.
“Marijuana production plays a significant role in fuelling gang violence,” he said. “We are seeing cocaine coming into the country in part because of marijuana going south.”
Broad social debate about decriminalizing marijuana is needed, Nicholson went on.
“When the official stance is prohibition, it makes it very difficult to have a debate of the pros and cons of decriminalization or safer approaches,” he said.
“The current approach appears to be ineffective in that a large minority of the population use marijuana despite the illegality, the police direct resources to control a substance which the majority of Canadians feel should have its legal status changed, and organized crime benefits from the current legal status.”
There is no evidence that using marijuana makes people more likely to use harder drugs, Nicholson added.
“Many people use alcohol and marijuana and that’s as far as they go with substance use,” he said.
Council heard Nicholson’s presentation for information only. The vote last September at UBCM was to call on the appropriate government to decriminalize marijuana and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.