Moves to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana in B.C. is a deep concern for Lorne Hildebrand.
Hildebrand is the executive director at Nanaimo's internationally renowned Edgewood Addiction Treatment Centre, which has helped hundreds of people with their addictions since the facility was established in 1994.
He said the growing notion that pot is harmless is as "ridiculous" as saying that alcohol, which is legal and considered socially acceptable, is harmless, even with all the evidence to the contrary, and he fears for the impacts on society if marijuana is decriminalized.
Sensible B.C. has recently been given the go-ahead by Elections B.C. to gather the signatures required to launch a provincial referendum on decriminalization in 2014.
Sensible B.C. has already begun the collection of signatures and should the group gather at least 400,000 names by Dec. 5, a referendum on decriminalization will be launched for Sept. 2014.
The Nanaimo chapter hopes to gather about 6,000 signatures.
"I see a tremendous amount of difficulty ahead if marijuana becomes more acceptable in our society," Hildebrand said.
"When I first started here at Edgewood almost 20 years ago, alcohol was the single biggest issue for our clients, but now marijuana abuse has replaced that. It's a disease similar to alcoholism for many and we consider it a very serious issue. Like alcoholism, it's a long, costly and difficult process to treat."
Hildebrand acknowledged that not everyone who uses pot is potentially an addict but, like alcohol, there is a segment of the population that is more likely to become addicts.
He said long-term marijuana use can cause a deterioration of the brain, including a decrease in cognitive abilities and memory functions, and can even lead to paranoia and delusions in some cases.
Hildebrand said it can be difficult for many to realize that there are major issues in allowing more pot use in society, especially considering the fact that alcohol has been so readily accepted.
"Many people have a drink and its no big deal, but there are real health and social issues here that must be considered," he said.
"If we make marijuana legal, there will be more use of it and, inevitably, there will be more addicts that must be treated."
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