David Malmo-Levine: Cannabis legalization in Canada is truly Reefer Madness 2.0 (long read)

“With millions of stressed-out teens smoking pot, some parents are apt to attribute their children’s problems to marijuana’s malevolent influence.

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“With millions of stressed-out teens smoking pot, some parents are apt to attribute their children’s problems to marijuana’s malevolent influence. The adult temptation to blame the weed is reinforced by public officials who continually inflate the dangers and deny the benefits of cannabis. But U.S. authorities have long since forfeited any claim to credibility with respect to marijuana.”

Smoke Signals, Martin A. Lee, 2012 (1)

“In fact, substances have been used by humans throughout history for many reasons: to feel good, to feel better, to improve performance, for cultural/spiritual reasons, and to have new experiences. Substance use is more complicated than just ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It’s helpful to think of substance use along a continuum, from beneficial use to harmful use.”

The government of British Columbia’s Provincial Health Services Authority’s official position on “the difference between substance use and addiction” (2)

[This is a very long article and footnotes are listed at the bottom.]

A bunch of ads have appeared all over the country in the wake of pot legalization. Many are on bus shelters and billboards, but some are in newspapers, on TV, and online.

There are similar messages on the new legal pot packaging. Some exist to simply inform Canadians about the new rules surrounding pot legalization. Others appear to be public service announcements on responsible use. Still others claim to educate the public about the risks of cannabis.

Appearances can be deceiving, especially when it comes to the debate over cannabis use and cannabis policy. A closer look at these ads reveals the truth of the matter: none of the ads provide a genuine cost-benefit analysis based on facts, and all of them foist the stigma and the myths of “inherent harm”—especially in the areas of young people’s developing minds and impaired driving—that the newly formed licensed-producer pot cartel is based on.

The “captive market”—relationships of exclusivity and in some cases outright monopolistic patents and intellectual property, or “biopiracy” as some call it—are all based on “Reefer Madness 2.0”. It’s a term that has arisen among pot activists as of late as shorthand for the current batch of bunk-science myths of inherent harm from proper pot use.

Looking at all these ads in detail paints a pretty ugly picture of Reefer Madness 2.0 in the 21st century. They give activists an idea of what myths they will need to debunk to fight post-legalization persecution, over-regulation, and monopoly.

First off, let’s examine the “public service announcement” type ads created by various provincial governments. Then we can look at the ads from the LPs. There are many similarities.

Finally, we’ll check out the packaging the government has come up with.

Government ads

British Columbia:

B.C. has provided a bunch of ads that seem to be “opposing views”—with a comment at the bottom from the voice of an “impartial observer” who then goes on to foist as much stigma and inaccurate information as possible. One ad says “I can’t stand the smell of weed/Weed is great to smoke on the beach.’

Below this it says: ‘There are laws around here where you can light up. Get the facts.’

Another ad says: ‘When I road trip I always bring weed/Weed is not allowed over the border. It’s illegal to take cannabis across the Canadian border. Get the facts.’

Another ad says: ‘I can’t stand the smell of weed/Weed is great to smoke on a walk.’

Another says: ‘It’s legal so there’s no need to hide my cannabis/Cannabis should always be be kept away from kids. There are strict laws in place to protect children. Get the facts.’

Below each of these statements there’s the same link: cannabisclarity.ca.

Given how often the “protect children” myth is repeated to justify strict cannabis regulations, it seems to be the most important myth to debunk, so I focused on that one. I proceeded to search the website for evidence that children need to be—and are being—protected from cannabis.

“Cannabisclarity.ca” redirects to: https://cannabis.gov.bc.ca/

Under the heading “Safe Kids”, it states: ‘Early and regular non-medical cannabis use is associated with higher risks of dependency and health problems later in life’.

The evidence for this is apparently in the links on the side:

Check out these resources to help you have open conversations with your kids about cannabis:

Following the first link—“Health effects of cannabis (Government of Canada)’ brings you to a “canada.ca” website. (3)

Clicking on “Information for health care professionals” leads you to a Health Canada website on cannabis for medical practitioners. (4)

This ends up being a very interesting page, for two reasons:

  • There seems to be a through and honest assessment of the benefits of cannabis, including for stress, depression, and CBD to treat psychosis.
  • There is the same old reefer madness when it comes to risk: zero mention of the lack of an increase in psychosis or a decrease in IQ in the general population statistics. Zero mention of using THC as a diagnostic tool to allow for early detection of psychosis, or if early-intervention with CBD could provide better outcomes in those genetically predisposed to psychosis. (5)

This “cannabis may/may not harm developing minds of young people” debate seems to me to be the heart of the matter. It seems intuitive to me that if it’s true that cannabis use doesn’t make kids stupid or crazy, then cannabis can be regulated like coffee beans and young people can enjoy the benefits of legalization and poor people can participate in the economy.

Considering that this question is the heart of the matter, a close look at the evidence is required. (6)


  1.  British Medical Journal: ‘Cannabis Schizophrenia – does it exist?‘ David H. Marjot “The incidence and prevalence of patients showing schizophrenic syndromes are unchanged or have even fallen while the use of cannabis has increased enormously. We must conclude that either previous schizophrenic illnesses have become much less common or that cannabis schizophrenia is rare and perhaps it may not even exist.” 21 December 2002 (7)
  2.  Drug Alcohol Dependence: ‘Testing hypotheses about the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis.‘ Degenhardt L, Hall W, Lynskey M.’There was a steep rise in the prevalence of cannabis use in Australia over the past 30 years and a corresponding decrease in the age of initiation of cannabis use. There was no evidence of a significant increase in the incidence of schizophrenia over the past 30 years.’ 2003 Jul 20;71(1):37-48. (8)
  3. British Journal of Psychiatry: ‘Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence.‘Arseneault, Cannon, Witton, Murray’In the largest study of its kind so far, we have shown that recreational cannabis users do not release significant amounts of dopamine from an oral THC dose equivalent to a standard cannabis cigarette. This result challenges current models of striatal dopamine release as the mechanism mediating cannabis as risk factor for schizophrenia.‘2004 Feb; 184: 110-7 (9)
  4. The Lancet: ‘Psychological and social sequelae of cannabis and other illicit drug use by young people: a systematic review of longitudinal, general population studies‘ John Macleod, Rachel Oakes, Alex Copello, Ilana Crome, Matthias Egger, Mathew Hickman, Thomas Oppenkowski, Helen Stokes-Lampard, George Davey Smith’Cannabis use appears to have increased substantially amongst young people over the past 30 years, from around 10% reporting ever use in 1969–70, to around 50% reporting ever using in 2001, in Britain and Sweden. If the relation between use and schizophrenia were truly causal and if the relative risk was around five-fold then the incidence of schizophrenia should have more than doubled since 1970. However population trends in schizophrenia incidence suggest that incidence has either been stable or slightly decreased over the relevant time period.” Vol. 363 • May 15, 2004 • p. 1585 (10)
  5.  Schizophrenia Research: ‘Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005‘ Martin Frisher, Ilana Crome, Orsolina Martino, Peter Croft “The expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10 year period. This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and the incidence of psychotic disorders based on the 3 assumptions described in the Introduction. This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence (Macleod et al., 2006; Arsenault et al., 2004; Rey and Tennant, 2002). ‘2009 (11)
  6. Psychological Medicine: ‘Prospective Study of Cannabis Use in Adolescents at Clinical High-Risk for Psychosis: Impact on Conversion to Psychosis and Functional Outcome‘ Andrea M. Auther, Danielle McLaughlin, Ricardo Carrión, Pradeep Nagachandran, Christoph Correll, Barbara A. Cornblatt ‘The current data do not support low to moderate lifetime cannabis use to be a major contributor to psychosis or poor social and role functioning in high-risk youth.’ 2012 (12)
  7. PLoS One: ‘Incidence of schizophrenia and other psychoses in England, 1950-2009: a systematic review and meta-analyses.‘ Kirkbride JB, Errazuriz A, Croudace TJ, Morgan C, Jackson D, Boydell J, Murray RM, Jones PB ‘We found no evidence to support an overall change in the incidence of psychotic disorder over time, though diagnostic shifts (away from schizophrenia) were reported.’ 2012 (13)

B.C. ignores evidence

The B.C. government’s recommended source of information on cannabis and psychosis—the Canadian federal government—has a very extensive review of all the studies that claim cannabis causes psychosis, but only mentions one of the studies that claims otherwise— Arseneault et al 2004. B.C. ignores Degenhardt et al 2003, MacLeod et al 2004, Frisher et al 2009, Auther et al 2012, and Kirkbride et al 2012, as well as any discussion regarding the lack of an increase in psychosis appearing anywhere in any western nation’s general population statistics. (14)

The problem with everything—without exception—that the various levels of government and their various health departments produce on cannabis can be summed up with these seven “typical errors” of establishment cannabis research (15) :

  1. There is no differentiation between use and abuse—harm reduction techniques aren’t mentioned.
  2. None of the studies provides evidence for a causal relationship between cannabis and the problems mentioned.
  3. None of the studies bothers explaining away the evidence found in the general population stats—no increase in psychosis rates or decrease in IQ rates can be found that tracks with the massive increase in cannabis use rates in western nations between the early 1970s and late 1990s.
  4. There is no real risk-benefit analysis—risks are inflated and benefits are ignored.
  5. Prohibition harms aren’t factored into the equation.
  6. An understanding for, or appreciation of, medical autonomy is nonexistent.
  7. These studies do not mention any of the studies that run counter to their findings.

The evidence not only proves cannabis doesn’t make kids stupid and crazy; it proves that cannabis can actually help with the things teens are dying from: suicide, car crashes, and alcohol and drug overdoses. (16)

The fact is, our teens are stressed out and depressed to the point of suicide. The shitty world that the adults have left them—with talk of nuclear war; leaky pipelines; endless Fukushima pollution; neo-Nazis marching in the streets; looming ecological, environmental, and fiscal doom—sends smart teens with intelligent preferences for herbal relaxants and antidepressants into the welcoming arms of nontoxic cannabis. An honest review of the evidence suggests that cannabis is the safest, cheapest, and most effective antidepressant and relaxant on planet Earth. (17)

People who pretend to be worried about the developing minds of young people but ignore these facts are doing their charges a disservice: they are helping the powers-that-be perpetrate a horrible injustice for the sake of monopolistic greed, and our young people are dying as a result.


Alberta has provided a bunch of ads that dare the viewer to learn more about cannabis at its website: drugsafe.ca.

One ad says: “Hey Marijuana Maestro! Why does cannabis affect people under 25 differently? Find out at: drugsafe.ca”.

Another says: “Are you a weed wizard? Prove it. Why does cannabis affect people under 25 differently? Take the quiz at: drugsafe.ca”.

Another says: “Welcome to pot college. Test your dope knowledge. Why does cannabis affect people under 25 differently? Take the quiz at drugsafe.ca”.

Drugsafe.ca redirects to an Alberta Health Services website. (18)

All sorts of information on cannabis is available, but I decided to check out the much-touted “quiz” first. A few clicks and I got to the quiz: http://testyourhighq.drugsafe.ca/

The first question of the quiz is the same topic from all the bus ads: “If you’re younger than 25, why should you avoid using cannabis?”

The answers available were:

A: Before 25, the brain is still developing. Cannabis use may damage its growth.

B: Whoa, A) you really came out of the gate swinging.

C: Yeah, seriously A), is that even true?

D: I dunno, other letters, I think A has a point.

E: Both A and D.

I answered “C”. Of course I was told I was wrong, and that “A” was the right answer. But there was no link provided within the quiz to the evidence of this being the case. I decided to stop taking the quiz and look for a link to this being the case somewhere on the website. On its cannabis info page (19), I found a link claiming to be “for educators”. I considered myself one and clicked on it.

I eventually got to a page (20) where I found the following written:

“Trying cannabis is unlikely to cause serious problems, but even occasional use has harms. For instance, driving after using cannabis may double the risk of having a car accident. (11) Youth who use cannabis early and often for months or years, are at risk of long-term health and social problems. (1,3,4) Here are a few examples:

  • Increased risk of harm to the brain – such as problems with memory, concentration, thinking, learning, handling emotions and decision-making (3,4)
  • Increased risk of mental health problems – such as psychosis or schizophrenia and, possibly, depression, anxiety and suicide, especially if there’s a personal or family history of mental illness (1,3,4)
  • Difficulties with relationships – at home, school or work (3)
  • Physical health harms – including lung and respiratory problems from smoking cannabis (3)
  • Addiction – cannabis can be addictive, especially for youth (4)

The studies provided to back up these claims are the following:

  1.  Drug Free Kids Canada. (n.d.). Cannabis talk kit: How to talk to your kid about cannabis. (21)
  2.  Government of Canada. (n.d.). Health effects of cannabis. (22)
  3.  George,T & Vaccarino, F. (Eds). (2015). Substance abuse in Canada: The effects of cannabis use during adolescence. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (23)
  4.  Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (2015). Cannabis, driving and implications for youth. (24)
  5. As with the sources relied upon by the government of British Columbia, these sources suffer from the same seven problems typical of cannabis research. (25)

Furthermore, a closer look at the “mind is still developing” claim is warranted, since it’s the core message in all of the Alberta cannabis bus shelter ads.

Some experts feel that the brain never stops developing, and this “25 year old cut-off year” thing is not universally accepted by all neuroscientists.

Cognitive Neuroscience: Is it true that the brain is not fully developed until you are 25?

In response to this question on quora.com, University of Southern California neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre wrote: ‘Yes and no. Is the brain ever fully developed? The process of generating new neurons and supporting cells and structures can be a lifelong event. From this change in structure, you can find a change in function—meaning that the brain is always constantly ‘developing’, learning and changing.

‘Now I do get what you mean about the teenage brain. The brain has big milestones when it comes to development (talking, walking, etc) and the last to form is the most complex—which involves thinking, planning, imagining and problem-solving. This is attributed to the frontal cortex, which is the last structure to fundamentally change well into your 20s, with variability across individuals.

‘During childhood, think of the brain as building and building, like a growth spurt. Then during teenage years, the brain prunes some of the information to try to streamline in a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ manner. The other aspect of teenage brain development lies in the insulating rubber material (myelin) that makes information process faster-making it more efficient. In adolescents, this process is not finished until early-mid adulthood (again with variability).

‘These changes result in behavioral changes such as developing abstract thoughts, reasoning ability, goal prioritizing, etc etc. The last areas to develop are the prefrontal lobes (reasoning, prioritizing, multi-tasking, controlling impulses, cause/effect, right/wrong, emotional control)—All of the ‘adult’ human traits. Results vary. The science is not clear-cut on this one, and so many factors affect brain development (including the surge of hormones at this time). The short answer is that chemical/mechanical changes never ‘stabilize’ because brain activity is always in flux.‘ (26)

Added to that “no cutoff year for brain development” argument, there’s the additional argument that cannabis could be involved in “neurogenesis”—the creation of new brain cells. Given how much space in the mass media is devoted to scary sounding “brain alterations” brought about by pot smoking and so little space devoted to cannabis as a “regulator of neurogenesis”, a closer look is warranted.

British Journal of Pharmacology: ‘The role of cannabinoids in adult neurogenesis

Jack A Prenderville, Áine M Kelly, Eric J Downer

‘While much progress has been made in recent decades in understanding the process of adult neurogenesis, the underlying mechanisms have yet to be fully elucidated. As highlighted in this review, the microenvironment clearly determines the rate of proliferation of NSCs and NPCs, their survival and their differentiation into mature neurons that are integrated into functional networks.

‘Endocannabinoids may play pivotal roles in at least some of these phases of neurogenesis. Of particular interest are the varying temporal effects of synthetic, endogenous and plant-derived cannabinoids on the proliferation and survival phases of neurogenesis, indicating complex physiological regulation of this process that may be modulated by drugs that target the endocannabinoid system. The functional importance of neurogenesis has yet to be clarified; however, the weight of evidence indicates that impaired neurogenesis is associated with depression and cognitive impairment.

‘Pharmacological targeting of the cannabinoid system as a regulator of neurogenesis may prove a fruitful strategy in the prevention or treatment of mood or memory disorders.’

2015 Aug; 172 (16): 3950-3963 (27)

Miami’s Community Newspapers: ‘Cannabis: Neurogenesis and Neuroprotectant

Michelle Weiner, DO, MPH

‘Cannabis is a safe therapy for patients with neurodegenerative diseases, for those who want to enhance their endocannabinoid system (ECS) and promote wellness and anti-aging. This evolutionarily conserved signaling pathway called the ECS has neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory abilities. Given cannabis’ favorable safety profile, with increased research, it has the potential to lead to novel therapies to prevent disease or progression of symptoms by modulating the ECS.’

June 28, 2018 (28)

The fact is, we could actually be punishing teens for building up their brains using cannabis neurogenesis using the excuse that they are hurting their brains to justify the punishment. Given my own personal experiences with both being a teen who used cannabis and an adult who received punishments for breaking cannabis laws, I can tell you that one afternoon in police custody is much more traumatic, stressful, and damaging than any cannabis overdose or cannabis problem I’ve ever experienced.

All my best ideas came to me while high—ideas such as arrest-resistance techniques or concepts that later became court challenges or books or works of art. Cannabis use never got in the way of writing 500 pages of comic book or representing myself at the Supreme Court of Canada or researching how truthful today’s government’s pot propaganda is. It seems to me to be more probable that the government continues to lie about cannabis for the same reason it has always lied about cannabis—to scapegoat deviants and autonomous people, and to monopolize and control the health-care economy.

Edmonton also has a bus shelter ad promoting a “rules for where you can smoke” website. (29)

Of course the fact is that in spite of what the website implies, cannabis smoke is different than tobacco smoke—much closer to incense smoke (which is unregulated) (30) than to cigarette smoke in terms of risk to others. That’s mainly because all corporate cigarettes are grown in radioactive chemical fertilizers, which is the primary—maybe the only—source of cancer from cigarettes. (31)

Health Canada could have organic standards for both tobacco and cannabis—thus removing the radioactivity from both the cigarette smoke and the pot smoke—but instead has neither. (32)

The truth is, pot smoke can actually help prevent lung cancer (33)—from the second-hand tobacco smoke the government refuses to provide organic standards for, or for the car exhaust that actually does cause the lung problems (34) that cannabis is blamed for.

The same tobacco companies that are now trying to take over the pot economy (35) are the tobacco companies that have known for decades that their product is unnecessarily radioactive and lethal. (36)

The “free all plants and prohibit radioactive fertilizers instead” campaign has an uphill battle, but a necessary one. Herbal harm reduction is a process of sorting out the inherently harmful elements from the not-inherently harmful elements. Implementing effective organic standards—agricultural protocols which protect microbes, earthworms, farmers and consumers—is the obvious solution.


From the great province of Manitoba emerges the “STREET CANNABIS ISN’T WORTH THE RISK” ad campaign. Below this bold assertion (and a skull and bones with two joints as the bones):

“Street cannabis isn’t worth the risk. If you buy cannabis, make sure to get it from a licensed retail store that offers a wide selection of legal products. Buying cannabis from a street dealer puts you at risk of arrest and fines. When you support the black market, you have no idea whether or not your money will go to fund other illegal activities. Worst of all, street cannabis offers you no quality control in terms of strength or purity. It may contain traces of pesticides and even other drugs that could put your life at risk. Street cannabis isn’t worth it. KNOW THE RISKS.”

Then the obligatory website, rife with materials echoing all the myths found in on the B.C. and Alberta websites discussed above, and a link to all the other provincial pot websites: Manitoba.ca/cannabis.

The problem with this “STREET CANNABIS ISN’T WORTH THE RISK” assertion is that whether it’s the first (and possibly only) head-to-head comparative study of LP cannabis vs. dispensary cannabis back in 2005, or similar tests from impartial observers today, dispensary cannabis comes out safer than LP cannabis in every category: metals, microbes, contaminants, and lost terpene efficacy from unnecessary irradiation. (37)

Just recently the Globe and Mail did a series of articles on quality control. The “street cannabis” turned out to be safer than the LP cannabis. The Globe and Mail found two examples of licensed producers using “Eagle 20” pesticide on their cannabis—it cleaves into hydrogen cyanide when smoked, which can be lethal. The Globe and Mail failed to find any dispensaries with this or any other potentially lethal pesticide on the cannabis it tested at around the same time. (38)

A modern-day analysis of the corporate model, where profit must dominate every consideration and health and environmental costs are passed onto the consumer—found in such documentaries as The Corporation (39)—predicts that corporate cannabis will be of lower quality than boutique cannabis from small business retailers. The latter often values a good reputation over maximum profit.

This could account for the evidence of the public preference black-market dispensaries have over other sources of cannabis in Canada:

This could account for the evidence of the public preferring black market dispensaries over licensed producers:

International Journal of Drug Policy: ‘Are dispensaries indispe

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