Pot activist Jodie Emery calls out Mayor John Tory on opioid crisis

If Mayor Tory is willing to “consider anything” to stem overdose emergency he must call for an end to marijuana dispensary raids because the science-based evidence is in: cannabis can save lives

Toronto’s Mayor John Tory recently wrote a passionate column for the Toronto Sun on the opioid overdose crisis. It was in response to a callous piece by Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy calling for a dose of “tough love” instead of naloxone for people who are overdosing. 

Mayor Tory condemned the war-on-drugs mentality in dealing with people who are addicted to opioids. He called for compassion and offered “that the City of Toronto is doing everything it can to help prevent those tragedies.”

He also committed “to consider anything that those people who know more than I do about this are willing to think are [sic] reasonable and is going to save lives.”

This is the perfect opportunity for Mayor Tory to demonstrate some true courage and political leadership by calling for the acceptance and expansion of cannabis dispensaries in Toronto and across Canada in order to help save lives. 

This isn’t some stoner’s outlandish imagining. We have evidence that cannabis substitution therapy works in harm reduction for hard drugs. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse in the U.S. recently shared a 2015 study by non-profit global think tank the RAND Corporation, which concludes that increased access to medical marijuana dispensaries from marijuana legalization resulted in reduced mortality from opioid overdoses.

It’s not the first report to say so. 

In 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center that arrived at the same conclusions. Those researchers studied data from 1999-2010. 

Even as far back as 2011, a University of California Division of Hematology-Oncology controlled clinical trial, Cannabinoid-opioid Interaction In Chronic Pain, concluded that cannabis use reduces the need for opioids and negative side effects associated with opioid medications.

In 2015, the Canadian Journal of Public Health published an editorial  by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS urging doctors to prescribe cannabis instead of opioids to treat pain. The authors lamented that doctors have not been quick to accept or even consider medical marijuana. 

Despite outdated fears and reservations about cannabis, the science-based evidence is in: cannabis can save lives.

Medical marijuana patients and dispensary operators know this first-hand: dispensaries have been engaging in peaceful civil disobedience for years to serve a desperate population of people in pain. It’s criminal that cannabis was not promoted earlier as an alternative. 

If Mayor Tory is willing to “consider anything,” he must be brave and call for an end to dispensary raids and encourage the City to accommodate and regulate marijuana shops as a safer choice than opioids for pain relief and those battling addiction. 

Decriminalization of simple possession – not just of marijuana but of all drugs – was implemented in Portugal in 2001 and immediately began to reduce drug harm and mortality, while also lowering the crime rate and addressing other prohibition-related problems. 

With traditional law enforcement approaches failing to stem the damage and loss of life, public officials here are finally considering different harm reduction avenues. 

Toronto’s new Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, recently called for the decriminalization ofmarijuana as a way to help stem the overdose tragedy. British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, has also expressed support for the idea. 

Many other organizations and government officials worldwide have been doing the same.

Facilities such as Insite in Vancouver and other supervised injection sites across Canada are saving thousands of lives, and finally expanding and receiving support from different levels of government. Naloxone is more readily available, and grassroots activists are doing heroic harm reduction outreach in the worst-hit areas.

But it’s still not enough. 

Our fellow citizens who become addicted to drugs are almost always marginalized by society, often becoming prisoners of the criminal justice system, stripped of their dignity and well-being. 

With so many lives lost to the crisis already, it’s time for all politicians to speak up about the need for action. 

Jodie Emery is a cannabis activist, public speaker and former co-owner of Cannabis Culture chain of marijuana dispensaries closed down by police last spring. 

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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