Thank you and good morning. My name is Dr. Serge Melanson. I am the chief of staff and an emergency room physician at Moncton Hospital here in New Brunswick. I'm speaking today on behalf of the New Brunswick Medical Society, a professional association representing more than 1,600 physicians in New Brunswick.
As a professional association, we believe that we have a key role to play in advocating for improvements to health care delivery in New Brunswick. We have led the way in various initiatives, such as the promotion of team-based health care delivery. We have also been successful in promoting healthy living initiatives and policy changes to protect youth from health hazards such as smoking and the use of tanning beds.
We recently launched a campaign to make New Brunswick one of the top three healthiest provinces in the next 10 years. We've also collaborated with schools to improve healthy food choices, and we have promoted the mandatory use of ski helmets to prevent head trauma.
I would like to thank the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for inviting me to speak today to the concerns of the New Brunswick Medical Society about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
In June this year, our organization published a position paper on the recreational use of marijuana, which included recommendations to the Government of New Brunswick on an appropriate framework to limit the harmful effects of marijuana use on New Brunswickers.
We also want to inform the public about the health issues associated with cannabis use, and we recently launched an information campaign for the public on marijuana use.
Like tobacco and alcohol, cannabis use can lead to negative health impacts. While Canadians will have the choice to consume marijuana legally in little less than a year from now, it is essential that they understand the risks. Making cannabis legal does not make it safe. We understand that the goal of the federal government in legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis is to decriminalize use of the drug and reduce illicit sales of the substance, but we believe there are still substantial concerns to address when it comes to the particulars of legalization.
Our position on legalization is in line with that of the Canadian Medical Association and their recommendations built on Canada's experience regulating alcohol and tobacco. We also support the guidelines developed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for low-risk use of cannabis. One issue of particular concern to us in this discussion, from a prevention and low-risk use perspective, is the proposed minimum age for the legal possession and purchase of recreational marijuana. We believe very strongly that the proposed age of 18 under Bill C-45 sends the wrong message to young Canadians—that it is safe for them to consume marijuana at that age. There is clear scientific evidence that the brain of a young adult is still developing up to the age of 25 and that marijuana consumption can have adverse effects on brain development. While we would ideally like to see the legal age for recreational marijuana set at 25 in Canada, we recognize that this is not likely feasible and that 21 may be a more realistic age for the prevention of illicit purchase by young adults.
Over the past 14 years of practising emergency medicine in Moncton, I've seen first-hand a significant increase in the amount of cannabis use and its negative health effects in patients presenting to the emergency department, whether it be as the primary cause of their medical problem, something that is worsening an existing chronic disease, or something that may be unrelated to why they're there. I deal with the effects of cannabis use in the ER in a number of situations. These can be patients experiencing unexpected effects due to cannabis being laced with dangerous chemical additives, patients experiencing a cannabis-triggered issue called cyclical vomiting syndrome, cannabis triggering serious mental illness, and patients experiencing such serious health issues as chronic lung disease as a direct result of cannabis use.
I see patients who have consumed cannabis, adolescents and young adults, for the most part, who then go on to develop their first episode of psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other significant mental health issues. Teens or young adults consuming cannabis will have a higher likelihood of developing these mental health issues if they continue to consume cannabis. Some young people may also be under the impression that these medical issues are curable. The reality is that these are lifelong diseases. Young Canadians are taking a significant risk in consuming cannabis. We believe there is a clear association between cannabis use and the onset of psychotic disorders, because the brains of these young adults are still in development.
Since we know that the recreational use of marijuana will be legalized and that increased use is likely to have an impact on health care, it is important that the provinces and territories have adequate resources to deal with it.
If Parliament adopts Bill C-45, the Government of Canada will be responsible for ensuring that the provinces and territories are adequately equipped to react to increased pressure on the health care system.
In addition, the Canadian government must ensure that the provinces and territories have the resources to adequately measure the impact of legislation to better adapt their awareness and education efforts to the situation, as well as their intervention and treatment services over time. Research on public health will be needed to measure the harmful effects of increased cannabis use on our communities and our citizens.
It is also critical that governments at all levels invest the necessary resources to support a strong and ongoing education and awareness campaign. If Canadians are to be presented with the choice to consume legal cannabis, they must have easy and clear information on the risks associated with making that choice.
In closing, I would like to make it clear that a decision by the Government of Canada to legalize the use of cannabis must be advised by these precautionary principles. Government has a fundamental responsibility to protect its population. It is of particular importance, on the legalization of cannabis, for government to ensure that it is living up to its responsibilities to all Canadians.