Why you shouldn't believe the claims made in CBC's latest anti-legalization op-ed

Opinion piece references a study "based on a foundation of falsehoods"

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An op-ed published by CBC today states that the legalization of cannabis is based on "highly dubious claims and grossly optimistic expectations", and that the Liberal government should not proceed with the bill as planned.

In fact, the opinion piece in question has a series of its own issues, including a reference to a study that was debunked by a leading cannabis researcher in 2016. 

The first indication that the piece should be taken with a grain (read: teaspoon) of salt is hidden in the author's description near the bottom of the story.

David Krayden is the Ottawa bureau chief for Washington, D.C.-based conservative media outlet, The Daily Caller, which, historically, has not held cannabis in high regard, publishing stories with headlines like 'Legal Marijuana Poses an Insidious Threat to Recovering Addicts' (this is categorically untrue) and 'Man Smokes Cannabis Joint, Cuts Off Penis, Stabs Mom Repeatedly' (the substance in this story was not actually cannabis).

He begins by criticizing the process with which the House of Commons organized testimony from expert witnesses, and accuses the Canadian government of preventing certain witnesses from addressing the health committee. 

Krayden writes that representatives from Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) were among the rejected witnesses, and that the group "worked practically alone in opposing the legislation".  He fails to mention that SAM eventually made their way into the Senate, with representatives addressing several committees and even inviting three Conservative Canadian senators to Washington for a meet-and-greet ahead of their visit.

Before you start to feel bad for the folks at SAM, know that numerous respected advocates, researchers, and scientists in the cannabis space consider the American lobby group nothing more than a propaganda machine for its tactic of disseminating flawed statistics and presenting them as hard evidence. 

Krayden suggests that the House of Commons also played Australian scientist Dr. Stuart Reece, author of the aforementioned paper, when he was invited (and then uninvited) to appear in front of Canadian MPs before Bill C-45 was passed onto the Senate.

"...He was uninvited—likely after the Liberal majority on the committee discovered that Reece had published a paper on how marijuana had been linked to gene mutation," the story reads. Krayden says that, based on Reece's paper, cannabis use has been linked to gene mutation, a permanent alteration of cells that may or may not lead to serious health problems. 

It’s more likely that MPs unininvited Reece after they discovered that the paper in question was full of its own "dubious claims".

A press release detailing Reece's publication claims that gene mutations could expose people to cancers and other illnesses, and that such mutations could "be passed on to their children and several future generations". How his team came to this conclusion is suspect, considering no actual tests were performed. The publication is simply an analysis of existing literature.

We have highly respected scientist Dr. Ethan Russo to thank for calling "reefer madness" on the study two years ago. (If you're not sure of Russo's standing in the industry, consider this: Over the course of the last 20 years, he’s authored more than 10 books and dozens of articles on the subject, and has worked with countless international organizations and institutions focused on cannabinoid research.)

When the paper was first published in 2016, the East Bay Express reached out to Russo for his take on Reece's review of the literature. 

"This report is based on a foundation of falsehoods," he told them. "Cannabis is not mutagenic (productive of mutations in DNA), nor is it teratogenic (productive of birth defects) or carcinogenic (causative of cancer). Countless animal studies and human epidemiological studies support its relative safety in this regard."

Russo also took issue with the way Reece put "abuse" of cannabis on the same playing field as its medical use in his review, telling the Express, "There is a world of difference between drug abuse, and the judicious use of low doses of cannabinoids for therapeutic application in serious diseases."

Later in the piece, Krayden tells readers that legalization in Colorado has led to a spike in impaired driving and traffic fatalities, which has caused towns to pass municipal bylaws outlawing use. In fact, some of the towns he’s referring to opted out of legalization before the law was passed, and subsequent data about driving and traffic fatalities was even released. Authorities in Colorado have also said that any data showing an increase in crashes cannot be definitively linked to legalization.

His claim that crime has risen in Colorado since legalization is also unsubstantiated

Finally, Krayden suggests that "the debate continues" over whether or not cannabis is a gateway drug. Perhaps he and another pundit enjoy continuing the debate, but many have put that argument to rest, as an increasing number of studies point to cannabis as a tool for harm reduction rather than a path to substance abuse.

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