Social Issues

UN body: Legal cannabis leads to higher consumption, negative health effects

By Luis Lidon

Vienna, Mar 9 (EFE).- Legalization of non-medical use of cannabis appears to result in higher consumption of that psychoactive drug, negative health effects and a lower perception of risk, especially among young people, a body that monitors governments’ compliance with United Nations international drug control conventions said Thursday.

The most recent annual report from the International Narcotics Control Board, released in Vienna, comes as Germany is paving the way for the legalization of recreational marijuana.

In recent years, Uruguay, Canada, Malta and 19 US states have approved the recreational use of cannabis, a global trend that is on the rise even though it contravenes the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The use of cannabis, the world’s most popular drug with around 209 million consumers, is not permitted under that convention for any non-medical or non-scientific use.

The INCB, which describes itself as a “quasi-judicial” organ made up of 13 experts, has come under criticism in the past from some non-governmental organizations for its conservative stance on this subject.

The Board said that behind the current trend toward legalization is a lobbying effort by an industry that generates tens of billions of dollars in sales annually.

“The expanding cannabis industry is marketing cannabis-related products to appeal to young people and this is a major cause for concern, as is the way the harms associated with using high-potency cannabis products are being played down,” INCB President Jagjit Pavadia was quoted as saying in a Thursday press release.

That monitoring body said the legal sale of cannabis-derived products is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, generating $25 billion in sales in 2021, an increase of 43 percent from the previous year.

The Board’s report said the “most concerning effect of cannabis legalization is the likelihood of increased use, particularly among young people.”

In that regard, the INCB said the data shows that teenagers and young adults consume significantly more cannabis in states that have legalized cannabis than in those where recreational use of that drug is still illegal.

Likewise, the INCB said there also is evidence that general availability of legalized cannabis products reduces the perception of risk associated with their consumption.

“New products, such as edibles or vaping products marketed in appealing packaging have increased the trend. INCB finds that this has contributed to a trivialization of the impacts of cannabis use in the public eye, especially among young people,” the Board concluded.

Pavadia acknowledged in remarks to reporters that limited data posed a significant problem for her team of experts, but she said existing studies clearly backed the INCB’s concerns about the legalization of cannabis.

The experts say the statistics show an increase in cannabis-related health problems in all jurisdictions where that drug has been legalized.

“Between 2000 and 2018, global medical admissions related to cannabis dependence and withdrawal increased eight-fold, (while) admissions for cannabis-related psychotic disorders have quadrupled worldwide,” the INCB’s press release said.

Cannabis consumption is particularly harmful to young people because their brains are still developing, according to the release, which said use of the drug can have a negative impact on their educational outcomes and social behavior.

And it said that in the US state of Colorado, where cannabis was legalized for recreational use in 2012, fatal traffic accidents involving motorists under the influence of that drug nearly doubled between 2013 and 2020.

The INCB said legalization of non-medical use of cannabis also has failed to achieve governments’ main stated objective: to reduce criminal activities and increase public health and safety.

Data show that the illegal supply of cannabis – sold at lower prices by unlicensed businesses that avoid taxes and regulatory obligations – stands at 40 per cent in Canada, nearly 50 percent in Uruguay and a whopping 75 percent in the US state of California.

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