The federal government is putting $1.4 million toward research into the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana, saying the work will help it understand the impact of the country’s new pot laws.
Bill Blair, the MP who has acted as the government’s point person on cannabis legislation, announced the funding Wednesday at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, explaining that it would be divided among 14 projects.
“We acknowledge the need to expand our knowledge when it comes to the health effects of cannabis, as well as the behavioural, social and economic implications of its legalization and regulation,” he said.
Each of the 14 research projects, which are based out of hospitals and universities across the country, will receive a $100,000 grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.
In 2016 the government published a report acknowledging a lack of comprehensive, high quality research about the public health effects of cannabis, Blair noted.
“Our government is prepared to invest to change this reality. We are committed to strengthening the evidence base with regard to the health benefits and the risks of cannabis use,” he said.
Asked whether the government should have acted sooner so results of such research could be known before recreational weed is legalized this summer, Blair said it would have been difficult to carry out such studies on a large scale while pot was illegal.
“The opportunity for the scientific community to do the important research that’s been outlined today has been significantly restricted by a prohibition environment,” he said. “It’s only by lifting that criminal prohibition that we have enabled the type of research that can now take place.”
Sergio Rueda, a CAMH researcher who received one of the grants, said it’s still important to conduct such research.
“We believe that every significant drug policy reform needs to be evaluated before, during and after the transition takes place, so we are really glad that CIHR is funding studies that focus in on studying the public health impacts of cannabis legalization,” he said.
Rueda will lead a study that examines how cannabis legalization affects diverse communities in four provinces – including Indigenous and racialized communities.
He said he hopes his research will help inform the development of new government policies and refine existing policies.
Another project outlined on Wednesday will examine how cannabis use changes once it’s legalized and will evaluate the provincial governments’ regulatory models for cannabis policies.