Wednesday, May 25, 1999



Ms. Elinor Caplan (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the control of marijuana today from the legislative standpoint and legal obligation. The legislative challenges are imposing but the government is committed to meeting them. The focus of my debate today will be exclusively on the use of marijuana for medical purposes and on the legislative and international commitments to which Canada is deeply committed.

The medicinal use of marijuana is not only a complicated medical and legal issue, it is a complicated legislative issue. Any move to relax controls over cannabis brings into play domestic laws and international treaties, violations of which bring very serious consequences. The legal realities cannot be ignored. That is why I am speaking to the subamendment that has been proposed. It is troublesome from the obligations and legal realities especially of international treaties.

Should marijuana be used for medical purposes it must be done without undermining domestic efforts to control the illicit marijuana market. Canada cannot contravene important international agreements that combat the global trade of illicit drugs. In view of this commitment as well as many other concerns, the government is now preparing a plan specifically intended to help Canadians who are suffering facilitate access to marijuana for medical purposes only.


Allow me to outline these legal obligations and how our agenda for research will address them in Canada.

Cannabis is controlled under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the narcotics control regulations. The CDSA has a clear purpose to control substances that can alter mental processes. These are substances that can harm the mental health of individuals in society if used and distributed without appropriate supervision. The CDSA therefore prohibits the production, importation, exportation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana in Canada.

The narcotics control regulations meanwhile permit exceptions to the control of substances if certain conditions are met. The regulations authorize the granting of licences to permit the manufacture, import, transport and distribution of narcotics, including marijuana, for medical
and scientific purposes. The current regulations therefore permit the use of marijuana for medical and medicinal purposes. The narcotics control regulations contain mechanisms to grant appropriate licences and so on and so forth.

In short, the use of marijuana for medical purposes is already possible, provided the product is of good quality and originates from a licit, that is a legal, licensed supplier and is distributed and used in a proper scientific or medical context. That is where we run into the complexity of this issue. We face many difficulties relating to the securing of safe, legal, that is licit, and reliable sources of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Canada must comply with international obligations under a series of treaties designed to control drugs worldwide. I will expand on this very briefly. For cannabis to be used in therapeutic situations it must originate from a legal source and be of medicinal quality.

The government cares and has compassion for Canadians who are suffering from serious illnesses. For this reason our plan will include access to a safe quality supply of marijuana. We do not want Canadians to gamble with their health in using drugs of unknown quality and drugs which may in fact do more harm. As well, its distribution would need to comply with the
requirements of the food and drugs act and regulations to ensure product safety, efficacy and quality.

Health Canada is exploring avenues to provide Canadians with access to medicinal marijuana in a controlled medical setting. In fact Health Canada has already taken the initiative of exploring and possibly securing legal, licit, quality sources of marijuana for medicinal use for the vital research we want to conduct.

There are a few countries, the United States and others, where marijuana is being legally cultivated in limited quantity under strict government control specifically for its use in research. Researchers can obtain marijuana from those sources. The domestic supply here in Canada is also being explored.

The cultivation of marijuana in Canada however involves more than domestic health and safety issues. International obligations must be met. Marijuana is controlled primarily by the 1961 United Nations single convention on narcotic drugs. Canada is a signator and we have ratified that convention. Under this and other conventions, Canada is obliged to exercise control over production and distribution of narcotics and psychotropic substances. We must combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking and report our activities to international bodies. These are our treaty obligations.

As well I would point out that at the present time there is no scientific evidence on marijuana's medicinal values and the safety or efficacy of marijuana. This has not been established in any country.

The government is committed to enabling scientific research into the potential benefits and hazards of marijuana. We want to compile the needed evidence to meet our legislative challenges, and they are many as I have outlined, but more important to help Canadians who are suffering and those who are terminally ill and who feel medicinal marijuana might be of benefit to them. We want to help. It must however be done without compromising Canadian standards for health, safety and security.

I am sure hon. members would agree that this is a prudent yet compassionate and carefully considered plan of action.

The MP'S Speak Out

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