Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Pamela Fayerman, Vancouver Sun, with Canadian Press
Published: Thursday, July 22, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
B.C. has the highest rates of illicit drug use in the country, with more than 500,000 of the province's 4.1 million residents admitting they use marijuana and nearly 700,000 saying they've tried such drugs as cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and heroin.
The Statistics Canada findings show marijuana and hashish use almost doubled from 1989 to 2002 across the nation, and is most common in B.C., where 16 per cent of respondents said they've used marijuana in the past year, compared with 12 per cent in 1994. The national rate in 2002 was 12 per cent.
In B.C., 20.1 per cent of respondents said they had tried drugs other than marijuana, almost triple the rate in some Maritime provinces and double that of Ontario.
The findings are based on a survey of 36,984 Canadians aged 15 and older.
The study's author, Michael Tjepkema, said Wednesday that in 1994 -- the last time the federal government did a large marijuana-use survey -- B.C. also ranked number one.
"It could ... be that people in B.C. are more likely to admit cannabis use than other provinces because of differing attitudes," he said.
A public poll done by Leger Marketing last year found 53 per cent of B.C. residents had smoked marijuana at least once and 14 per cent of residents had smoked it in the past year.
The Statistics Canada report shows that B.C. holds the distinction of having the highest number of drug offences related to marijuana -- 398 per 100,000 -- which is more than double that of Ontario and Alberta.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Chuck Doucette, coordinator of drug awareness for B.C. and the Yukon, said that figure is related to the large number of hydroponic marijuana growing operations in B.C., said to produce $7 billion a year in marijuana, of which $2 billion-worth is exported.
Doucette said B.C.'s drug use rates are "worrying, but not surprising to police."
He attributes the prevalence to creeping legitimization of marijuana and "slack" attitudes on the part of baby boomer parents.
"My parents' generation was completely against all drugs but then, with baby boomers, you've got people who smoked marijuana that was one per cent THC [the major mind-altering chemical component in marijuana] and they say, 'So what? We survived,' but what they don't realize is that the marijuana out there now is 20 per cent THC and kids are getting addicted because it is so much more potent."
Doucette says strong lobbying by the Marijuana Party and advocates for legalization of marijuana and medicinal marijuana is influencing the public perception of drugs.
"Look at our own mayor. He went to a rally organized by [B.C. Marijuana Party president] Marc Emery and he's got this airy-fairy attitude [about decriminalization] that it's going to be better that way," said Doucette, who notes that tobacco smoking is going down while pot smoking is going up.
As recently as May, Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell advocated the legalization of marijuana. At a conference organized by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, he said he would legalize pot and then "tax the living hell out of it . . . and ensure that every single dollar of that tax went into the the health-care system."
Marijuana use among 15-to-17-years-olds increased only three percentage points -- from 26 per cent to 29 per cent -- from 1994 to 2002, but among 18-and-19-year-olds, use soared to 38 per cent from 23 per cent.
Doucette said the smaller increase among younger teens can be attributed to anti-drug programs in schools, aimed at Grade 5 and 6 students.
Dr. Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist at B.C. Children's and Women's Hospitals who specializes in addiction, echoes Doucette's concerns about how addiction increases correlate with rising use.
Kang said youth addiction is a growing problem in B.C. and her wait list of eight weeks attests to that. She notes that once kids are addicted to drugs and in a state of crisis, there are not enough outpatient, residential rehabilitation and detox beds and programs in the province to help them.
Kang said the average age that children try alcohol is 12. By 13, they're trying marijuana and by 15, ecstasy, methamphetamine and cocaine.
Studies suggest that the more one smokes marijuana, the greater the likelihood of using more serious drugs.
The marijuana gateway theory is controversial, however, because some experts believe certain people have a higher propensity to use drugs in general.
In Ottawa Wednesday, Prime Minister Paul Martin said the federal government is committed to marijuana decriminalization and will reintroduce a bill that died when the election was called.
"The legislation on marijuana -- the decriminalization of minor quantities of marijuana -- that legislation will be introduced," he said.
Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said he isn't worried that decriminalization will lead to greater use.
"I'm not so sure whether that argument has any validity," said the newly sworn-in MP for Vancouver South.
"My view is that if you make something illegal, some people are more attracted to it . . . if you allow people to possess it in small quantities for personal use, the allure kind of disappears for some people," said Dosanjh.
Pamela Fayerman: [email protected]
A JOINT DISTINCTION:
More British Columbians admit to using marijuana than do residents of other provinces. In 2002, 1.28 million British Columbians said they had tried pot at some time, while more than 500,000 still used it.
Have you ever used pot? 38.7%
Currently use it 15.7%
Ran with fact box "A Joint Distinction", which has been appended to the end of the story.
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