Wednesday, April 14, 1999



Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Rosemont for bringing forward private member's Motion No. M-381, to allow the legal medical use of marijuana.

This motion is a very good demonstration of what we can do as parliamentarians to examine an issue. In some ways this institution of the House of Commons is sort of far behind public opinion, even where the medical community is. Certainly people who are suffering from pain and diseases like AIDS or cancer are very eager to see this motion pass.

I congratulate the member for his diligence in bringing this issue to the House and seeking out support from other members. I think that support is now quite strong. Many of my NDP colleagues are very supportive of this motion. Our health critic, the member for Winnipeg North Centre, spoke on March 4 and outlined very well the medical evidence that already exists to demonstrate that this motion should be approved in full rather than with the amendment put forward by the government.

There is lots of evidence before us to show that the medical profession has made it quite clear there are very good grounds and information to show the medical use of marijuana is actually something beneficial. It helps people who are suffering from HIV, AIDS, cancer, MS and other ailments. We have received communications from groups such as the Canadian AIDS Society. It has very strongly outlined and advocated its support for this motion.

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There is no question there have been numerous studies. Also, very brave individuals in our society have taken on the justice system, sometimes almost alone, to challenge the archaic laws when it comes to the medical
use of marijuana. People like Jim Wakeford, Terry Parker and others with a lot of expense and anxiety have had to take on the system to get this issue before the courts and to challenge the sanity and the rationale of why this law still exists.

Numerous polls show us that even the Canadian public believes very strongly that the medical use of marijuana is something that should be sanctioned and supported. It creates a very strange situation that we have public opinion, and we even have judges making court rulings, we have health professionals, and the medical profession all telling us that this is the right thing to do. The lack of political will and commitment to follow through is now the greatest obstacle we face.

I along with other members were very happy to see the Minister of Health make his announcement on March 3 that Health Canada will study and develop a plan around clinical trials for the medical use of marijuana. I do think we have to question whether or not this is simply a stalling tactic that is going to cause people more harm and more suffering as they wait for more studies to be done.

We have to be very clear that the Minister of Health has the discretion and the power today. He had it last year and the year before that but he has it today to approve applications on compassionate grounds for the medical use of marijuana. There are applications before him.

The Vancouver Compassion Club is an organization in my riding with a membership of about 700 individuals. Marijuana is actually dispensed for medical purposes. They have a lawyer who is signing people up to apply for an application for exemption. They are even prepared to go to a legal challenge based on their constitutional rights to have this medical exemption take place while the trials are taking place.

I encourage members of the House, particularly government members, to continue to put pressure on the health minister. It is a useful and good thing to have these clinical trials go ahead as there are things that we need to learn. However, we have enough information now to ask the minister to go ahead with the exemption so that people can get relief, help and support now without having to become criminals if they seek help through places like the Vancouver Compassion Club or other organizations.

Why are we afraid of taking immediate action on this? Why is the government afraid of doing that? It is partly wound up in the morals we have. We heard from the health critic of the Reform Party. It is all wound up with
people's concerns about recreational use. This is part of a debate which I think is very necessary on Canada's drug laws. We need to have progressive reform in our drug laws.

I have been working on an issue that affects my riding very much. It deals with injection drug users, heroin addicts who are literally dying on the streets. I have been advocating for heroin prescription trials as a way of
medicalizing support and help to actually prevent people from dying, to get support for those people who now are completely outside of the system.

The biggest barrier is not from the medical community, nor even from the public. It is from elected representatives, particularly the government representatives who are afraid to take this issue on. It deals with the taboos around a drug policy.

I say very strongly that this is a place to begin in terms of drug reform policy. There is strong public support but we do have to go further.

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We can make a very rational, articulate and well reasoned case why the motion should be approved. The Minister of Health should be approving applications today for exemptions so that Canadians do not suffer any
longer, so that they can get the relief they need without having to go to all kinds of difficult means and being made to feel like they are being marginalized and stigmatized by having to get medical marijuana illegally.
That is a shame. It is something that does not need to exist if we had the political will and the leadership.

I thank members of the House who support the motion. We must continue this work. There is a lot at stake here. This is an important debate. We must put pressure on the health minister to provide those exemptions.

We must make it very clear that we do not want to wait another two or three years for the trials to be conducted. We do not want to wait for another study or another plan. We want help and relief to be provided now while those trials are going on. That is what we must urge the government to do
in the interest of compassion and of providing people with real help and assistance.

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