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‘It’s not a harmless substance’: Doctors Nova Scotia pushing for public education prior to cannabis legalization

The provincial government is setting the legal age for the purchase, possession and consumption of cannabis at 19.
The provincial government is setting the legal age for the purchase, possession and consumption of cannabis at 19.

KINGS COUNTY, NS - There are some things to consider before taking full advantage of the impending legalization of cannabis.

“More than anything else, it’s a matter of just needing to do more study on it and also getting the notion out there that it’s not a harmless substance, even if we don’t fully understand what the harms are,” said Doctors Nova Scotia spokesperson Dr. Tim Holland in a recent phone interview.

“Driving is a major concern,” he added, noting that it is imperative consumers refrain from operating a motor vehicle while impaired.

That said, Holland stresses that Doctors Nova Scotia is not opposed to legalization.

“Doctors Nova Scotia welcomes legalization as an important opportunity for implementing a good public health policy and harm reduction strategy,” he said.

“One of the biggest problems with the discussion of cannabis is it’s so polarized… what we’d like to see is a good, balanced approach to education of the public so that they are aware of the harms that do exist and can then make an informed decision for themselves.”

On March 26, Doctors Nova Scotia released a list of six recommendations for the provincial government to consider in advance of the legalization of cannabis. Beyond listing the preferred conditions for the distribution of cannabis through government monopolies, Doctors Nova Scotia recommended a legal age of 21 to purchase or use cannabis.

“There’s some evidence that cannabis might affect neurodevelopment, potentially up to the age of 21, but the science around that is early and definitely far from firm, just because it’s been so hard to study cannabis given that it’s illegal,” said Holland. 

“At the same time, the older you make it, the more likelihood you have of creating a black market for younger users, so you have to also face that reality as well.”

There is a particular concern about the potential impacts recreational cannabis use would have on individuals with a history of schizophrenia or psychosis, Holland said.

“There’s definitely evidence that shows that marijuana use can trigger psychotic episodes, especially in people in their late adolescence, early 20s — and that’s well documented,” he said.

“Now the thing that’s not quite clear is whether or not individuals that have these psychotic breaks… were predisposed to it.”

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The proposed Cannabis Control Act introduced by the provincial government would set the legal age at 19.

“We wanted to disconnect the notion of cannabis use alongside alcohol. We encourage people to use them independent of one another,” said Holland, adding that moderation is key to either substance.

At the end of the day, Holland said education that allows for informed decisions prior to use is critical from a public health standpoint.

“It’s not the most harmful substance, but it’s not harmless either.”

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