Marijuana use has doubled over the past 10 years, a survey says, and it's climbing the social ladder, JANE ARMSTRONG writes
Like maple syrup and strong beer, marijuana is on track to be the new icon of the true north strong and free -- or at least a required weekend staple for many a frazzled Canadian.
Pot use in Canada has doubled over the past decade, according to a new survey, prompting a fresh round of calls from activists to remove the illicit drug from the criminal-justice system.
The Canada Addiction Survey released yesterday shows that 14 per cent of respondents used cannabis in the past year, up from 7.4 per cent in 1994. And nearly one half of those surveyed -- 45 per cent -- had used pot at least once.
"I know a lot of these people, and they're leaders in society," said Marc Emery, president of the British Columbia Marijuana Party.
"They're artists and journalists and classical musicians. They're smoking pot. I've smoked with them. It's a huge chunk of the population."
The new study, considered the most comprehensive addictions survey yet, shows that other illicit drug use is increasing in Canada, as is alcohol consumption.
Though marijuana activists used the study to bolster their arguments, health-care workers and law enforcers called the results troubling.
Conservative justice critic Vic Toews blamed Liberal-government policies that condone drug use -- from supervised injection sites to the planned easing of marijuana laws -- for the rising drug-use rates.
"I am concerned that the government has not put forward a national strategy to deal with the whole issue of addictions," Mr. Toews said.
The survey also indicates that pot is a drug of choice among the middle-aged and better-educated. The study said marijuana use increases with education, rising to 52 per cent for those with postsecondary education from 35 per cent among high-school dropouts.
Marijuana activists said the survey shows pot use has morphed from a taboo pursuit to mainstream. They added that it means Canadians have rejected the law-and-order notion that users should be treated as criminals.
Jody Pressman, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, hopes the survey will prompt Ottawa to make good on its pledge to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug. The group plans to release a survey of its own today in Ottawa.
"Millions of people [in Canada] have used pot, and they're not criminals, and it's time politicians faced the fact that use is so widespread," Mr. Pressman said.
The organization wants marijuana regulated the same way as alcohol and tobacco are.
Meanwhile, as Canadians grow more lax in their attitudes about pot, Americans remain leery about liberalizing marijuana laws, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV.
The pollsters, who interviewed 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans, asked respondents whether they agreed with Canada's plan to eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana.
Among Canadians asked, 51 per cent said they agreed, with 33 per cent opposed.
In the United States, by contrast, 36 per cent said the plan was a sound idea while 39 per cent said it was a bad one.
The Ipsos-Reid poll was conducted from Nov. 10 to Nov. 22. The margin of error in both countries is 3.1 percentage points.
University of British Columbia political scientist Michael Byers said the poll reflects a widening chasm between Canadians and Americans on social issues, a gap he predicted will increase with the recent re-election of President George W. Bush, who is to visit Canada next week.
"He was elected because of the mobilization of the American right," Prof. Byers said.
"The thinking is quite formidably different from the majority of Canadians."
In Canada, the survey prompted alarm among health professionals, who warned that pot is a mind-altering, potentially dangerous drug, despite its new mainstream status.
"Cannabis in not harmless," said David Marsh, an addictions specialist with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.
"Many people seem to use cannabis a few times and stop. But among the group who've used it in the last year, there's a group who are using it quite frequently and having difficulties associated with that."
Dr. Marsh said one-third of the people who said they used pot in the past year reported problems controlling it.
The addiction study says men were more likely than women to have used the drug, and young people had a higher rate of use than older Canadians.
About 269,000 Canadians said they had used an injection drug in the past year, up from 132,000 in 1994.
The study was sponsored by Health Canada, the Canadian Executive Council on Addictions and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.