A report released Thursday that shows the number of pot smokers in the world has grown to more than 160 million people has Canadian advocates renewing calls for legalization of the drug.
An Australian study, citing United Nations data from 2006 and published Thursday in the journal Lancet, found that about 166 million people aged 15-64 — or an estimated one in 25 in that age range — reported using cannabis. That's up from about 159 million people in 2005.
"It's not going away. So should one in 25 people be criminalized for smoking pot?" asked Eugene Oscapella, an Ottawa professor and spokesman for the Canadian Foundation For Drug Policy. "What this number says to me is the world is not drug free. Some people prefer alcohol over cannabis and some people prefer cannabis."
The foundation is urging the Canadian government to legalize and regulate marijuana, by allowing people to grow their own and taxing sales the way it regulates alcohol or tobacco.
While the Australian study found pot use was greatest in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, followed by Europe, another report — from the United Nations — shows marijuana use in this country is actually the highest in the industrialized world.
That 2007 report, by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, found 16.8 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 64 smoked marijuana or used other cannabis products in 2004. That's the most recent year for which statistics were cited.
"I'd say 70 or 80 per cent of my university students smoke pot and they are perfectly normal people," said Oscapella. "If you've ever tried it you know its no big deal. So why are we using criminal law to deal with this behaviour? That's the real issue."
Other figures — from Statistics Canada — show the number of Canadians using cannabis is on the rise, from 6.5 per cent of Canadians in 1989, to 7.4 per cent in 1994 and then to 12.2 per cent in 2002.
The largest concentration of marijuana use in Canada is in British Columbia, while residents of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan had lower-than-average rates.
B.C. also leads the country in marijuana production with 40 per cent of Canadian cannabis produced there. That's followed by Ontario at 25 per cent and another 25 per cent in Quebec, the UN report said.
Unlike Canada, in Australia and New Zealand — where eight per cent of the population use cannabis — the numbers there are declining, the Australian study says. It says a similar trend is also happening in western Europe.
The full report, which analyzes the adverse effects of cannabis use, can be viewed at http://press.thelancet.com/cannabis.pdf
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