Cannabis legalization a catalyst for research into drug, says federal pot czar

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Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction participates in a round table discussion on cannabis with students at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine before announcing $24.5 million in funding for cannabis research and public awareness activities on Wednesday. Some of the funding will go to research projects at the U of C. Gavin Young / Postmedia

Ending cannabis prohibition has allowed for valuable research into the effects of the drug, with some of that activity taking place in Calgary, Ottawa’s pot legalization czar said Wednesday.

The University of Calgary will receive just over $500,000 for research on how pot prevents migraines and induces cannabinoid hyperemesis, a condition marked by severe vomiting.

Some of that money will also fund a U of C awareness program focusing on harm reduction.

The initiatives are part of a $24.5-million Canadian Institute of Health Research package funding 26 projects across the country that will help explore the benefits and drawbacks of cannabis use.

It’s a result of the federal government decision last October to legalize recreational cannabis use, said Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair.

“That research across the country is going to help Canadians make healthier, safer choices, it’s going to help our kids,” said Blair, Ottawa’s point man on cannabis legalization.

“It makes us a leader in the world because the world is looking to Canada as a place where research takes place — it can’t take place in so many places in the world, it can here.”

Blair, a former Toronto police chief, said it’ll also better inform the use of medical cannabis by helping physicians impart the drug’s benefits and risks to patients.

Cannabis plants are shown at Sundial Growers facility in Olds. Dean Pilling/Postmedia

Canada’s move to be only the second country to legalize adult use of cannabis was instrumental in advancing study into the drug, said Rebecca Haines-Saah of the U of C’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“It’s something that wouldn’t be possible in the prohibition era,” she said.

She said funding for the U of C awareness project will ensure youth will have meaningful input in how harm reduction programming is crafted.

“We’ll make sure their voices are front and centre in the development of resources and not just consulted on a token basis,” said Haines-Saah.

That work, she said, will target not just “mainstream” youth but those more vulnerable in using cannabis.

Minutes earlier, Blair attended a roundtable discussion with students and academics, some of whom insisted the risks of cannabis use, particularly for developing brains, not be ignored.

More study is needed targeting those who more frequently use increasingly potent pot who “are more at risk for mental-health harms, and we also know there’s harms related to long-term use on lung function and use during pregnancy,” said Dr. Emily Jenkins of the University of British Columbia’s Nursing School.

Even so, Jenkins said legalizing the drug prior to more research being conducted wasn’t a mistake.

“We were really hindered by the criminalization so we weren’t really able to do the research . . . this is a good policy decision and is grounded in the evidence that is available and recognizing the harms under prohibition for the last many decades,” she said.

Haines-Saah said the negative effect of criminalization on youth “far outweigh or outstrip what we know about health harms.”

Meanwhile, Blair said recreational legalization has also seized nearly 50 per cent of the pot market from illicit dealers, a figure that will only grow.

“That’s a good six months’ work but we’ve only begun — it’s a process,” he said.

Blair wouldn’t give a date for the legalization of edibles and other cannabis derivatives, saying only that regulation governing them would be ready by Oct. 17.

“Then what we will see is an orderly implementation of those regulations . . . those products will eventually become available on the market but it will be done in a controlled way,” he said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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