There’s major dough in dope — how should the government use it?

To effectively combat substance abuse, marijuana tax funds should primarily be invested in prevention and education

There’s major dough in dope — how should the government use it?

On November 10, the Canadian federal government announced an excise tax plan that will be implemented when marijuana is legalized next summer. The plan proposed an excise tax of $1 per gram, or 10 per cent of the producer’s sale price, with the higher amount of the two being charged.

The plan is still in its consultation stage, and there are sure to be many changes over the next few months. Hopefully the fact that education and prevention tactics provide better long-term solutions to addressing substance abuse than punitive mechanisms will guide future discussions about the tax plan. Moving forward, marijuana legalization should be approached mainly as an issue of public health — the revenue from legalization can play a major role in ensuring appropriate solutions to substance abuse are implemented.

In a November 2016 report entitled “Legalized Cannabis: Fiscal Considerations,” the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that sales tax revenue for legal marijuana could be as high as $959 million in its first year. While it is unlikely that this figure will be reached due to initial legalization costs, it doesn’t include potential revenue from an excise tax. Sales and excise taxes combined could make the almost $1 billion goal an achievable reality.

Meanwhile, substance abuse continues to be a costly problem for the government and citizens alike. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) claims that substance abuse and addiction isn’t an isolated problem — it burdens our health care, law enforcement, and criminal justice systems, as well as our overall productivity as a society. This doesn’t even begin to cover the unquantifiable human costs of substance abuse either, such as decreased life expectancy or disruption of family life.

In 2006, the CCSA released a report titled “The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada 2002.” The results were harrowing: the total annual societal costs of substance abuses was $39.8 billion. Our flailing health care system has struggled to keep up with substance abuse issues for years. A 2014 CCSA study, “The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Hospital Use,” showed a 22 per cent increase in hospital costs for substance abuse-related issues from $219 million in 2006 to $267 million in 2011. This included $14 million in hospital costs along with a 39 per cent increase in days spent in the hospital for marijuana users.

These reports speak to a need for a more effective and efficient system to combat substance abuse and addiction problems. While it would be misleading to equivocate the repercussions of marijuana abuse and those associated with hard drugs, the sheer amount of revenue the government will be bringing in from marijuana legalization can be redirected to alleviating the problems associated with substance abuse in general.

The current tax plan calls for a 50-50 split of the revenue between the federal and provincial governments. Provinces spoke out against this plan immediately, stating that they deserve a bigger portion of the revenue given that they are responsible for most of the work and costs associated with implementing legalization. Municipal governments have also argued that, because they cover almost 60 per cent of Canada’s policing costs, the revenue should be directed to cities to help offset them.

Both of these claims mention the enforcement aspect of legalization, which remains a part of the government’s marijuana regulation strategy. Yet if there is one thing the ‘War on Drugs’ has taught us, it is that cracking down on drug use via highly punitive enforcement measures is an inadequate solution. This approach has proven ineffective at reducing substance abuse and has burdened the criminal justice system, incarcerating people at alarming rates while failing to confront and deal with the root causes of drug use.

Punitive measures can also be extremely costly. A 2005 report by the Health Officers Council of British Columbia found that for every $5 spent on treatment, the federal government spent $95 on enforcement. There are substantial costs, financial and otherwise, associated with incarceration in particular.

In contrast, education and prevention programs deal with reducing harm by destigmatizing substance abuse so that people can get the help they need. This approach can be highly beneficial, particularly when it supersedes harsher measures. An example of this is Vancouver’s Four Pillars drug strategy, which has been successful in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, overdose deaths, and public drug use by focusing on the combined principles of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. This strategy recognizes the need for policing while emphasizing a preference for non-punitive measures where possible. In this model, police officers connect non-violent offenders with health services instead of incarcerating them, a method that has been commended by the city’s Drug Treatment Courts.

Accordingly, the federal government should devise a tax plan that prioritizes funding education and prevention programs over law enforcement strategies — not just for marijuana, but for all substances. Adopting this approach to countering substance abuse and addiction and using marijuana tax revenue to finance it has the potential to increase public awareness about marijuana and how to use it safely. It could also lower the need for extensive policing and other enforcement costs. Legal substances, which will soon include marijuana, are the most abused in Canada — almost four times as much as their illegal counterparts — and it makes sense to use the money reaped from legalization to prevent harmful misuse.

If the federal government wishes to make the best use of marijuana tax revenues, they must prioritize investing those funds in the fight against substance abuse and addiction. Diverting more funding to law enforcement is unlikely to achieve this goal. Fortunately, the consultations for the excise tax framework are ongoing, and I would encourage students to get involved in the process. Individuals and groups who wish to present their own ideas about the framework can review the relevant documents at the Department of Finance website and send written comments by email until December 7.

Ramsha Naveed is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Political Science.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s no dope in team

The effects of the first four of the NCAA’s banned substance list

There’s no <em>dope</em> in <em>team</em>

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) forbids its athletes from consuming several psychoactive substances. These substances have a variety of physical and psychological effects on athletes; most of which, over the long-term, can lead to serious health complications. Here’s a quick list of some of these banned substances.   

Drug class: Stimulants 

Examples: Caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine 

What they do: Stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system, which is composed of the brain and the spinal cord. They cause feelings similar to an adrenaline rush, which will make the user more energetic; this has obvious implications for athletes. Of course, there are significant differences in the potency per milligram of each stimulant: a cup of coffee is, by the milligram, definitely a more moderate pick-me-up than a line of cocaine. Nevertheless, crashes, or a sudden drain in energy, follow the high one experiences from all stimulants.

Drug class: Anabolic agents 

Example: Steroids 

What they do: Steroids, among the most well-known anabolic agents, promote muscle growth and weight gain. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), steroids are generally used to encourage speedy growth of farm animals; however, they may also be prescribed for various medical reasons, including to counteract body deterioration symptoms of individuals suffering from AIDS or other diseases. Obviously, the muscle growth effects can be and, in many cases, are abused by athletes to improve their performance. Yet, consistent use of steroids is discouraged for reasons other than being unsportsmanlike. Increased feelings of aggression, depression, and nausea, as well as reduced fertility in both men and women are but a few of many symptoms that accompany long-term use of anabolic agents. 

Drug class: Alcohol and beta blockers 

Example: Propranolol

What they do: Beta blockers are commonly used to treat ailments such as hypertension. They are also used to treat of generalized anxiety disorder. The term ‘beta’ refers to a class of brain cell receptors (adrenoreceptors) responsible for producing cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). These promote brain cell activation by inhibiting the beta receptor. Beta blockers also inhibit cAMP production, which leads to inhibiting of a given brain cell from firing. This can have a variety of effects, depending on the cell being inhibited.

Used as heart medication, beta blockers slow one’s heart rate and lower blood pressure, making them especially dangerous for athletes to consume. The effects of alcohol require no explanation. 

Drug class: Diuretics

Example: Water pills

What they do: Diuretics encourage the excretion of water and sodium from the body. They cause an increased intake of sodium to the kidneys, which, along with water, exits the body in urine. Like beta blockers, diuretics are commonly used to lower blood pressure. Athletes may also use them to hide bodily evidence of previous substance use — these drugs are often refered to as masking agents — that would normally be obtained via urine testing. Athletes may also benefit from the increased urination consequent to diuretic ingestion to lose ‘water weight’ for competitions. 

The new war on drugs

Students advocate for drug reform in Canada

The new war on drugs

From April 19–20, the United Nations will be holding a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss global drug policy for the first time since 1998. U of T students from the Canadian chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) hope to be in attendance.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP)

The Canadian chapter of the CSSDP focuses on harm reduction and a scientific approach to drug policy, say Daniel Grieg, a leader within the organization, and Kyle Lumsden, a dedicated member.

In an email exchange with The Varsity, Greig emphasized that restrictions of scientific inquiry into psychedelics hinder medicinal development.

“Drugs are inappropriately classified in present policy.  For example, psychedelics are currently being explored… for their therapeutic properties and are also contributing to research in how we think about consciousness and the brain.  If it does turn out that psychedelics are useful and safe medicines, then we will be effectively withholding treatment from people suffering from mental illness,” he said.   

Greig emphasized the importance of lifting barriers to research. “Ultimately, we need to not only minimize the negative impacts of drug policy, we also need to maximize the possible benefits. Harms are things such as the disproportionate criminalization of the poor and people of colour, as well as the unnecessary deaths caused by lack of available knowledge. The benefits are such things as useful research tools, the development of more effective mental health treatments and tax revenue.”

Lumsden outlined the focus of his interest in drug policy reform: “The widespread harm of alcohol and violence associated with black markets for illegal drugs pose the greatest threat to society and can be improved with evidence based public policy. Multiple studies show that when police have a successful takedown of a drug network, there is a spike in violence afterwards due to a vacuum of power; other criminal groups compete for their share of the market indefinitely.” 

Nazlee Maghsoudi is the strategic advisor for the CSSDP, the knowledge translation manager for the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), and a U of T graduate. She said that the reality is that “prohibition has endangered young people” despite the war on drugs rhetoric, which claims to be aimed at “keeping children safe.” 

Maghsoudi believes that UNGASS is “drug policy’s moment in the sun, in terms of approach.” According to Maghsoudi, the UN’s drug policy approach has grown outside of the UN because “the global drug policy regime is divorced from human rights” even though non-progressive countries execute their inhabitants for possession or consumption. 

She also believes that there are many barriers to reaching the consensus needed for the construction of an international framework through the UN.

Canada’s opioid problem

According to an article in the Globe and Mail article, “Canada is the world’s second-largest per capita consumer of opioids and the fallout is being felt across the country. The article indicates that between 2009 to 2014, at least 655 Canadians died as a result of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is available by prescription and is also manufactured in clandestine labs and sold on the street.” 

Tara Gomes, a scientist working for the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) describes pain as “difficult to manage” and that there “isn’t a lot of training for it in medical school.”

It’s not that opioids should not be used, but once someone shows addictive tendencies doctors should be able to refer patients to a case-dependent addiction treatment. Tara Gomes emphasized “there is a place for these drugs in clinical practice,” Gomes said.

Prescriptions

The Triplicate Prescription Program (TPP) and Prescription Review Program (PRP) were created in part to address the opioid prescription problem facing Canada. 

Wende Wood, a pharmacist and a graduate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, recently moved to Alberta, where the TPP is currently in effect. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ website, “TPP collects prescribing and dispensing data for listed drugs. When the data meet certain criteria, physicians and others involved in the care of the patient are alerted, provided with information and directed to resources to support them in providing safe care.” 

Saskatchewan has a PRP that performs a similar function. 

Wood said that these prescription monitoring programs have not caught on because providing three copies of the same prescription is tedious for doctors to fill out. 

Marijuana and Toronto’s dispensaries

Under the current framework, marijuana is legal as a prescribed medication. To obtain this prescription, one must register for a mail order from a licensed producer, or obtain a doctor’s prescription for a health-related issue, whioch must be taken to a local dispensary. 

The dispensaries are not authorized by Health Canada.

Don’t be a dope

Part two of a series explaining the significance of doping and drug testing in sport

Don’t be a dope

For many North American athletes, whether Olympic hopefuls or professionals, collegiate athletics is the first step to a professional contract or gold medal. Shifting from amateur athletes requires an increased amount of time dedicated to more intense training regimes, and it also brings with it stricter rules: especially when it comes to doping.

Any athlete who is a member of either of the two major collegiate sporting bodies in North America, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is required to follow the world anti-doping code, established in 2004 by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

This code covers many different classes of substances, and perhaps most importantly, emphasizes the fact that it is the athletes themselves who are ultimately responsible to ensure that they are not violating any of its policies. If an athlete is found to have violated any part of the code, whether intentionally or not, they may face serious consequences.

So what exactly do the CIS and NCAA do in order to help educate and protect their athletes? The CIS, in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), have created an anti-doping program for all its athletes. The program consists of courses the athletes must take in order to be cleared to play. Each athlete’s CCES account also gives them access to further educational resources, including the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP), a quick reference card on the policies in place, and the ‘prohibited list,’ taken directly from WADA’s website.

Blood doping paraphernalia. Nathan Chan/THE VARSITY

Blood doping paraphernalia. Nathan Chan/THE VARSITY

The NCAA has a similar practice in place. Each athlete must sign a consent form at the beginning of the year indicating that they understand the rules, and that they give their consent to be tested at any time. If they do not sign this form, then they are not able to play. Finally, NCAA athletes must submit a student athlete statement, which provides the NCAA with more drug use information.   

Both organizations also warn against taking any nutritional supplements due to the fact that they are poorly regulated and may contain banned substances, which could lead to violating the code for an athlete. On their websites, the CCES and NCAA provide additional resources which athletes can consult in order to determine whether or not something they are taking is classified as a banned substance or not.

Closer to home, and in addition to completing the online courses through the CCES, many Varsity Blues athletes attend anti-doping seminars during orientation week each year. This seminar is organized and run by members of the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic, and it serves to further inform the athletes about anti-doping policies and the potential dangers of doping. If an athlete is caught, they can face a number of consequences, including but not limited to being suspended, being stripped of their title, or being banned from competition.

In a 2013 TEDx talk at U of T Doug Richards, medical director of the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic, and an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and physical education, mentioned that the culture of risk that is associated with the ‘winning at all costs’ mentality in sports can lead to using performance enhancing agents. “Look at the behaviour of athletes in respect to doping” said Richards, “they’re willing to take dangerous substances, subject themselves to potential bodily harm, they’re willing to cheat and potentially get caught and kicked out all in the name of increasing their probability that they might win.” Doping is not only a choice an athlete makes in order to increase their chances of winning, but it is also an extreme reaction to the culture within sport where winning has traditionally been the only predicator of success. 

So why do athletes dope in the first place? Well, the short answer is to increase their chances of winning. With over 284 purported doping cases in professional sport in 2014 and the recent state-sponsored Russian doping scandal, it doesn’t look like anti-doping education is as effective as it can be. It is clear that doping is a very complex issue in collegiate-level and professional sport, but the system could potentially benefit from an overhaul by changing the emphasis on the individual to focusing on the sports community to take the pressure off of winning.

Until that point, we will have to rely on information sessions and tests to commit athletes to ‘playing true.’