Columnist is deep on harms of pot---but superficial on pro-legalization

Casual attitude toward pot could be lethal
New study highlights ill-effects of marijuana use
By Jon Ferry, The Province, June 13, 2012
Last month I agreed with Vancouver pot activist Marc Emery that we needed to end drug prohibition in North America, if only because I couldn't imagine legalizing and regulating drugs would create more misery than banning them.

I also said I didn't view pot as harmless as drug crusaders like Emery, currently serving five years in a Mississippi jail on a marijuana rap, would have you believe.

Now, a major new report by the British Lung Foundation, based on a raft of medical studies, supports my view.

It warns that smoking marijuana is not only hazardous to the lungs, it can also cause everything from tuberculosis to Legionnaires' disease. It says there's stronger evidence than ever linking it to lung cancer...

Yet public awareness of the health consequences of smoking pot remains low, the report adds, with almost a third of the British population believing it isn't harmful. This rises to almost 40 per cent for those under 35, the age group most likely to have smoked.

Is this reefer madness? Or is there just a yawning disconnect between the public perception of marijuana as a relatively safe drug and the serious impact that lab rats claim it can have on those who smoke it?

"Young people in particular are smoking cannabis unaware that, for instance, each cannabis cigarette they smoke could increase their chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 tobacco cigarettes," said Dame Helena Shovelton, the lung foundation's boss.

And judging by what I've heard and read, young British Columbians are no different than young Brits in their casual attitude toward pot.

Indeed, a recent Health Canada survey noted that almost 30 per cent of B.C. students in Grades 7 to 12 admitted to using cannabis in 2010-11, well above the Canadian average of 21 per cent.

The students, it appears, are ignoring medical experts and choosing instead to believe activists like Emery, who insists there's no evidence in any study that anyone has ever died from using pot.

"Marijuana use exceeds tobacco use in the general population at all age levels now, so by the British Lung Foundation reckoning, there should be 20 times the number of fatalities from marijuana as there are from tobacco," Emery told me via prison email.

"But, in fact, while Canada sees 40,000-plus deaths from tobacco annually, there are no deaths in Canada attributable to the use of marijuana."

I think this is an issue, like global warming, that Canadians will have to decide for themselves.

They can heed the warnings of the lung foundation ... or that of a new Japanese study suggesting marijuana affects brain chemistry so seriously it can set off schizophrenia. Or they can listen to the see-no-evil marijuana advocates.

I do, however, think it's ironic that so many B.C. young people appear so concerned about the damage potentially dangerous chemicals may be causing the environment but seem so unconcerned about the possible harm they're doing to themselves.

If they want a full life, their lungs need to be in good working order. So do their minds.

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