With Canada on the verge of becoming the world’s second nation to legalise marijuana, the head of the World Health Organization said that countries should think twice before opening that door.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in the Philippines,told AFP the organisation support drugs like marijuana for medical reasons.
“Of course we believe that people who need it, especially for pain management, should have it. There should be access,” he said.
That access should be clearly regulated, he added, and throwing open the doors to full legalisation carries its own health risks.
“I think any addictive substance is not good for human health,” he said. “We wouldn’t encourage countries to follow those who are actually legalising it.”
As he spoke, Canada was a week away from allowing for adults to consume cannabis, the second nation in the world to do so after Uruguay’s move 5 years ago.
Canada had justified legalisation on the grounds that it would take traffickers and dealers out of the equation and protect young people.
Nine American states have also given the green light to recreational use, and many more allow it for medical purposes.
But Tedros said, similar to alcohol and tobacco, drugs like marijuana needed to be controlled because of the risk they posed outside medical settings.
He pointed to the strides nations around the world have made in curbing tobacco smoking, which the WHO considers to be the substance that causes the most damage to health globally.
While use is levelling off or even decreasing in some countries, WHO estimates there are still over a billion smokers globally.
As cannabis legalisation grows, the United Nations figures point to a much smaller number of users, with 2013 numbers showing nearly 182 million non-medical users.
For countries that do proceed with recreational legalisation, Tedros said it is key that they closely monitor the impact on their citizens’ health.
Legalisation has already prompted a range of questions on public safety that Canadian authorities have had to broach