A B.C. marijuana grow-op – part of the burgeoning $7-billion pot industry.

Health officers back legal marijuana

B.C. group says pot is not safe but criminal violence poses 'more danger' to public

A group of B.C. public health officers has joined a growing coalition of policy leaders urging the legalization and taxation of marijuana.

The Health Officers Council of B.C. voted to endorse Stop the Violence B.C. and called for regulation of illegal substances like marijuana to reduce the harm from substance use and the unintended consequences of government policies.

“The Health Officer’s Council and other experts are not saying that marijuana should be legalized and taxed because it is safe,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, a Vancouver Island medical health officer who chairs the council.

“We are saying that proven public health approaches should be used to constrain its use. There is now more danger to the public’s health in perpetuating a market driven by criminal activity.”

The coalition argues prohibition has failed and enforcement has little impact on drug use, merely fueling the $7-billion illegal pot industry that experts say is directly linked to the spike in gang-related killings since 1997.

A report released by Stop the Violence says teens find it easy to buy marijuana and pot use among them is up considerably since the 1990s, despite heavy spending on drug enforcement.

“By every metric, this policy is failing to meet its objectives,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a Vancouver doctor and founder of the coalition.

By regulating the market, he said, the distribution and use of marijuana would be more controlled and would also eliminate organized crime from the equation.

It would also provide a source of tax revenue in the hundreds of millions, he added.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said he generally agrees with the public health officers’ statement on marijuana reform although he was not formally part of their endorsement.

“I support their call for a review of the effectiveness of current prohibition and criminalization and discussion of a more effective public health-based approach,” Kendall said.

Cannabis arrests in Canada climbed from 39,000 in 1990 to more than 65,000 in 2009, according to the coalition.

An estimated 27 per cent of young B.C. residents aged 15-24 used pot at least once in 2008, according to one poll.

Four former Vancouver mayors have also backed the coalition.

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