“That depends on how much promotion we allow,” said DeVillaer, who noted currently cannabis cannot be publicly advertised. “If we start advertising cannabis the way we advertise alcohol, I think we’re in trouble.”
DeVillaer said a Canadian tobacco, alcohol and drugs survey shows only 15 per cent of adults use cannabis occasionally while 80 per cent used alcohol.
“That’s a big difference,” said DeVillaer, who noted if the federal government changes the rules to enable cannabis companies to sponsor events and offer celebrity endorsements, those numbers could jump dramatically.
“There’s a potential for harm,” DeVillaer said. “Cannabis is nowhere near the problem alcohol and tobacco is, but it is still a problem.”
DeVillaer said there is not a lot of evidence to show that cannabis is a gateway drug to other, more harmful narcotics. He noted the bigger risk is what happens when pot users start mixing it with alcohol and tobacco.
“I’d be much more concerned about that than I’d be about it leading to other drugs
DeVillaer noted that in the 1960s about half of Canada’s adult population used tobacco. Today, after many years of restrictions and anti-smoking initiatives that is down to about 20 per cent.
Rebecca Jesseman, policy director at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, agreed there is little evidence linking pot use alone with other drugs.
“The fact that other drug use is often preceded by cannabis use is more likely due to common risk factors for substance use and the greater availability of cannabis,” she said. “So, the relationship is one of association rather than causation.”
Jesseman added there is evidence from alcohol research that increasing the number of retail stores and hours does increase usage.
She noted they haven’t seen that yet for cannabis, adding that retail sales are still in their “early stages of stabilization” which have been further slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a 2019 Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction one-year observation review, Canada’s cannabis market is still developing and more people have been trying pot since it was legalized.
Most first-time users are age 45 and older and revenues from pot sales were significantly lower than expected.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: With legal cannabis being available in Hamilton for over a year, we wanted to examine the past, present and future of the industry and its impact on our communities. Tomorrow we look at if Hamilton made the right decision in allowing cannabis retain within its borders.