Torontonians gather at a local concert venue to watch the "bud drop" at the stroke of midnight, in celebration of the legalization of recreational cannabis use on October 17, 2018 in Toronto, Canada.

Fans Celebrate Marijuana Legalization in Canada. Critics Say it Could All Go to Pot.

All eyes were on Canada this Wednesday as the country became one of just a handful of countries to legalize the recreational use of marijuana — and only the second, after Uruguay, to sanction a fully legal recreational marijuana marketplace.

Torontonians gather at a local concert venue to watch the “bud drop” at the stroke of midnight, in celebration of the legalization of recreational cannabis use on October 17, 2018 in Toronto, Canada.

Visual: Ian Willms/Getty Images

The widely anticipated legislation, which stemmed from one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promises back in 2015, was welcomed by marijuana advocates and industry leaders — with revelers in Toronto even celebrating with a “bud drop” at the stroke of midnight. But as provinces and territories develop a patchwork of rules based on the new federal framework, some medical professionals and citizen groups worry that the move to legalize could do more harm than good.

An editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on Monday expressed concern that investment in the industry, which is expected to grow to $5 billion U.S. by 2020, could result in increased cannabis use, along with the drug being marketing to minors.

“Cannabis companies may initially focus on attracting current consumers from black-market sources, but eventually, to maintain or increase profits, new markets will be developed as is consistent with the usual behavior of a for-profit company,” the editorial stated. “Marketing efforts may include encouraging current users to increase their use or enticing a younger demographic.”

Research examining such claims has so far yielded mixed findings, through survey data from Colorado — the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014 — suggests that despite an initial spike, teen use has now fallen to its lowest level in nearly a decade.

Canada’s Cannabis Act, also known as Bill C-45, specifically prohibits promotion of marijuana to people under the age of 19 and aims to improve public health by ensuring all products sold — including whole plants, seeds, dried cannabis, and oil — adhere to strict standards. Still, just how provinces and territories will police purchases, possession, and growing, as well as incidents of impaired driving, remains to be seen.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the country’s eastern-most province, residents on Tuesday night lined up to be the first to legally purchase recreational marijuana from a shop in downtown St. John’s. The province will allow products to be sold through private licensed retailers, while those living in Ontario will only be able to make purchases through a government-run website until privately-owned shops open next April.

Expressing concerns about his province’s ability to deal with impaired drivers, Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated in a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau that he felt legalization was rushed and didn’t give law enforcement time to prepare. But in Toronto, Ontario’s largest city, Police Chief Mark Saunders said the issue is nothing new. And with the new legislation comes more power to pull over and test drivers suspected of operating under the influence.

Indeed, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, police issued a citation just one hour after the federal legalization went into effect.

“I think that’s just the education piece of our members, knowing where to go with that,” a police officer told CBC News. “It’s still new to us, too, right, so we’re still learning.” 

Also in the news:

• The Trump administration issued a proposal on Monday that would require companies selling certain drugs funded by Medicaid or Medicare to include pricing information in their advertisements. The move, which comes as part of the president’s promise to lower prescription drug prices, received swift pushback from pharmaceutical companies, who have argued that highlighting list prices is misleading since insurance often lowers the amount that patients ultimately must pay. In anticipation of the Trump proposal, members of the lobbying group PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, earlier on Monday instead proposed to direct consumers to websites to find more information on pricing. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that proposal was not sufficient. While consumers pay different prices depending on their insurance coverage, those with high-deductible health plans are often required to pay the list price — which according to HHS can range from $535 to $11,000 for some of the most common drugs — until their insurance kicks in. (NPR)

• Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Monday. He was 65 years old. In a statement given to ABC News, billionaire Bill Gates, who started the business with Allen in 1975, said he was “heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends.” The two had known each other since childhood and both attended Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington. In his 2011 book “Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-Founder of Microsoft,” Allen describes being responsible for creating the two-button mouse and for coming up with the name Microsoft. After leaving the company in 1983, he became an investor and launched the Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, through which he made large contributions to brain science, and the study of artificial intelligence, and machine learning. (The Verge)

• On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for more aid in fighting the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, it did not officially classify the outbreak as a public health emergency because it has not yet spread outside of DRC’s borders, and because international aid could be limited by travel restrictions put in place in the event of a declaration of emergency. Ebola is highly contagious, spread through bodily fluids, and causes fever, diarrhea, and internal bleeding. Since the beginning of the outbreak in August, 216 people have been infected and 139 have died. In addition to public health-related aid, extra security measures are also needed to protect against the multiple armed rebel groups inciting violence against the government, civilians, and each other. An increase in Ebola infections occurred last week in the city of Beni, where hundreds of people have been killed in the past few years by rebel groups. The WHO’s decision not to declare emergency was “a missed opportunity,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who has been a member of WHO emergency committees. “The WHO has neither the mandate nor the expertise to deal with security threats,” he said. (The Wall Street Journal)

• The effect of climate change on tropical forests — and the fragile network of insects, birds, and frogs sheltered there — appears far more destructive than scientists first realized, according to a new report. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a rainforest in Puerto Rico as a model, comparing arthropod biomass from the 1970s with that harbored by the much warmer forests of today. The researchers calculated up to a 60-fold reduction in arthropods (insects and other invertebrates) and a synchronized decrease in the creatures that feed on them, such as birds, lizards, and frogs. David Wagner, a University of Connecticut expert in invertebrate conservation, called the findings “a clarion call” signaling that similar harm could be occurring in forests around the world. (The Washington Post)

• The “nays” have it. Such was the outcome, again, of a contentious vote to amend the constitution of the National Association of Science Writers, a professional organization that counts both journalists and government or institutional public information officers (PIOs) among its members. To many, the conflicts inherent in such a membership array — journalists, after all, ostensibly represent the interests of readers, while PIOs represent the interests of the organizations that pay them — appear destined to breed discord, particularly given that all members pay dues. NASW has long attempted to steady the ship by giving over the organization’s top leadership roles to journalists alone, though that has not sat well with many public relations professionals within the group, who have twice pushed forward an amendment to NASW’s charter that would allow any member in good standing to occupy the top slots. Both forays failed, but in announcing the results of the most recent vote this week, NASW leadership acknowledged that the organization still had divisions to address. “We recognize that we, as a community,” the group’s newsletter declared, “have problems that still need solutions.”  (NASW)

• And finally: When it comes to food, there’s often a whole lot of confusion among the public —  but apparently not when it comes to milk. According to a new 1,000-person survey by The International Food Information Council Foundation, about 75 percent of Americans know that plant-based milks do not contain dairy. (Of the remaining participants, about 20 percent weren’t sure, and fewer than 10 percent believed they contained cow’s milk.) The survey appears at a moment when the FDA, after decades of pressure from the dairy industry, is considering a proposal to “provide greater clarity on appropriate labeling of plant-based alternatives” to milk and dairy products. But if you’re waiting for “almond juice” or “soy drink” to hit the market soon, don’t hold your breath. “The FDA can decide whatever they want,” lexicographer Kory Stamper told Grist earlier this year, “but in terms of common usage, that use of [plant] milk is not going anywhere. It’s 600 years old.” (Forbes)