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Canadian mental health center calls for marijuana legalization

Canada's largest addiction and mental health treatment and research center is calling for the legalization of marijuana. The director of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto says the current system of controls no longer works.

The call from CAM-H is one the latest in Canada for the easing of the country's marijuana laws. In a recent policy statement, the director of the center says cannabis should be sold through a government-controlled monopoly and all penalties for cannabis possession and use by adults removed.

The director of social and epidemiological research at CAM-H, Jurgen Rehm, says the legalization and strict control of marijuana is the most effective way of reducing the harms linked to cannabis use.

"There should be a government monopoly on sales. There should be a minimum age for purchase and consumption. There should be controls on availability. There should be a ban on marketing, advertisement and promotion.....and plain packaging," Rehm said.

Rehm says Canada's current system of controls is failing. He adds that legalizing and controlling pot is an important health measure.

He says even though it's an illegal drug, Canada has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, with about 40 percent of Canadians having used it at least once.

In particular, young people are at risk. Rehm says by criminalizing marijuana, young people are pushed into an illegal market where other, more dangerous drugs are sold from the same dealer.

The Canadian Public Health Association has welcomed the call for legalization marijuana, saying the war on drugs has failed and it's time for a different approach. The association's executive director says it's time for the conversation on changing the laws to begin.

Prime minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have rejected the call.

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.