Toronto’s Matt Mernagh clearly represents the other side of the story when it comes to the issue of legalization of marijuana.
The Toronto-based author and marijuana advocate who has fought the law courts over marijuana issues for the past five years, favours legalization, regulation and taxation of the substance.
Canadian law currently allows for marijuana use by people suffering from debilitating illnesses, and while there have been calls by some for decriminalization of the substance, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau recently called for federal legalization of it.
While Trudeau’s words can be looked upon skeptically as an attempt to make a daring policy statement in the middle of what seems like widespread voter apathy, the marijuana legalization issue has come up before and will certainly come up again.
SooToday.com, speaking to local law enforcement and medical officials last week, were told Trudeau’s comments send the wrong message to youth and that the substance can act as a gateway to stronger, more dangerous drugs.
Mernagh told us regulation of the drug would actually lead to greater public safety.
“The local marijuana dealer is not asking people for proof of age,” he said. "The local LCBO outlet is carding people to make sure young people don’t get access to alcohol. They make over 200,000 turn-downs a year to young people who couldn’t furnish identification.”
Mernagh said the same type of system, put in place for marijuana, would help keep it out of the hands of young people.
He added: “Taxation of it would help with our deficit in Ontario. The LCBO makes about $1 billion a year that goes to the provincial coffers.”
“With regulation,” Mernagh said, “people would know what they’re smoking, whether it’s potent or not-so-potent marijuana.”
“People would know how the marijuana has been grown, whether organically or chemically-fed. Those are things regulation would do.”
Mernagh’s philosophy, like other marijuana advocates, is that since people are going to use it, there may as well be regulation of it that ensures some type of quality control.
“There is more talk of using it responsibly and people coming out of the cannabis closet because of people like Justin Trudeau talking about it. They feel more comfortable.”
What of the issue of impairment?
There is no question the brain is affected by marijuana use.
“It’s a fascinating question,” Mernagh said.
“Are users safe to drive? They’ve done studies of this in Colorado, and what they’re finding is that marijuana smokers are slower drivers and more cautious drivers. There’s no evidence they’re bad drivers.”
He added driving is often the last thing on a person’s mind after smoking marijuana.
“A lot of people who smoke marijuana don’t like to go any further than their kitchen.”
“Usually after smoking marijuana they just hang out and indulge in conversation, play video games or watch a movie.”
The idea that marijuana could serve as a gateway to use of stronger, more dangerous drugs irritates Mernagh.
“People that say that are uneducated about drugs and out of touch.”
“There are no studies that show it’s a gateway. That theory is about 20 years old and has been disproven.”
“I’d like to see their studies. There are studies that say that is not true.”
Mernagh reiterated his call for marijuana’s regulation, stating law enforcement’s efforts to control its spread among young people have been ineffective.
Surely the ingestion of marijuana smoke cannot be good?
Mernagh said: “Medical studies show marijuana is the least harmful inhalant you can use. Your local steel mill is probably a lot more dangerous than smoking a joint.”
For those concerned about the effect of marijuana smoke, Mernagh said marijuana can be easily ingested in other ways, such as through a vaporizer, sipped as a tea or even eaten in ice cream.
Regardless, marijuana remains controversial, and the federal government is not likely to equate its use with a cup of tea or a bowl of ice cream for some time to come.
Earlier SooToday coverage: