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Access Without Excess

Mark Kleiman on Canada's Cannabis Act

Canada's Cannabis Act contemplates nationwide legalization of marijuana. Mark Kleiman recently testified on the Act before the Standing Committee on Health in the Canadian House of Commons.

I would urge you in this process to pay attention to results, not slogans. The case for the legalization of cannabis is not its lack of risk, as we've heard from the other witnesses this morning. The case for legalization is the inability to control the illicit market and the harm the illicit market does and the fact that lots of people would like to use cannabis and can, in fact, do so harmlessly.

There is a tendency in public policy debates and in policies themselves to lurch from one extreme to another. At least in the U.S., we're in the process of lurching from considering cannabis an evil weed to considering it a harmless herb. Unfortunately, each is an imprecise characterization.

For almost any drug, the majority of the users of that drug do so harmlessly, and indeed, with some benefit to themselves. That's what keeps them using it. A minority wind up losing control of their consumption and engaging in problematic use. Tobacco in the form of cigarettes is the one exception to that, where most of the users engage in problematic use.

That minority of heavy users, however, accounts for not only almost all the damage involved with the use of any drug but for a large majority of the consumption of that drug. I don't have the numbers for Canada, but in the U.S., more than half of all the alcohol consumed is consumed as part of drinking binges, even though most drinking occasions are not to intoxication and are harmless. Eighty per cent of the alcohol consumed in the U.S. is consumed by people who drink more than is good for them. We see comparable numbers with cannabis.

The goal of legalization, I suggest, ought to be the availability of cannabis to those who want to use it temperately while minimizing the number of people who get in trouble with it; so, access without excess.

Transcript of Testimony

Prepared Text (pdf)

Tile photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash.

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