Wednesday, April 14, 1999
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA FOR HEALTH AND MEDICAL PURPOSES
Mrs. Christiane Gagnon (Québec, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on an issue that is important for the well-being
of some sick people.
Legalizing the use of marijuana for health purposes is an urgent necessity for many
sick persons, and the government's reluctance to set up an concrete plan of action
is unacceptable to the many sick people who must
act like criminals, even though they are using a drug prescribed by a doctor.
This debate is a first in the history of the House of Commons. At last, thanks to
the motion of my colleague, the hon. member for Rosemont, we have a unique opportunity,
as representatives of our fellow citizens, to discuss the legalization of marijuana
for medical purposes.
But the issue is not a new one. In this regard, we lag far behind our civil society.
We want to catch up by making sure that Motion M-381 gets the support of a majority
of members from all sides, when we vote on it here, in this House.
Let me explain why this is such an important issue. First, the Ontario court has already
found part of the Narcotic Control Act to be unconstitutional, including the provisions
on the use of marijuana for health purposes.
As legislators, we have a duty to make a decision before the current legal vacuum
forces judges to make that decision for us. Judges are not elected and should not
be forced to make the final decision in a debate involving all of society because
we hesitate to play our role as legislators.
This is also a matter of compassion towards those who suffer from nausea, vomiting
and other symptoms that often accompany chronic illnesses or are side effects of
their treatments. Thousands of patients affected by cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis,
epilepsy and other illnesses reported considerable relief from smoking marijuana.
The effects are so positive that many patients and their families are ready to risk
jail sentences to buy their drug on the black market.
It is always shocking, especially for parents, to see relatives suffering when there
is no efficient drug to alleviate pain. For all those who suffer, it is unacceptable
that someone having to live with a chronic disease should risk six months in jail
and a $1,000 fine for using a drug recommended by a doctor. In several cases, marijuana
is the only drug that can effectively reduce some symptoms associated with an illness.
Above all, it is unacceptable to make a criminal out of a person who uses for medical
purposes a product whose therapeutic virtues are well established.
In fact, practitioners have been prescribing Marinol pills for years. This drug is
known to contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC that is a lot simpler to pronounce which
is the main active ingredient of marijuana. Indeed, no one will deny the therapeutic
value of THC, which is prescribed to relieve terminally ill patients from nausea and
to stimulate their appetite.
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However, this synthetic pill is not a valid alternative to inhaled THC. According
to the famous American medical magazine, the New England Journal of Medicine of January
30, 1997, inhalation is the only way to increase rapidly the level of THC in blood.
Hence, inhalation of THC considerably improves the therapeutic efficiency of this substance.
Besides, numerous patients who would use marijuana for therapeutic purposes already
have to swallow every day an astronomical number of pills. This can cause vomiting
and patients are therefore forced to swallow again the medication they have rejected.
This is totally inhuman. It is obvious that in such cases, it would be better to administer
THC by the pulmonary route rather than by the digestive route.
I will now answer a question that many people ask about therapeutic inhalation of
marijuana. Are the side effects of this practice acceptable?
The inhalation of marijuana has well-known side effects. One only has to think about
the damages caused to the lungs by inhalation of noxious smoke or about certain psychotic
effects. We must understand that many
medications, and not only marijuana, have side effects.
Think, for example, of the undesirable and serious side effects of chemotherapy or
AZT treatments. Let us consider, as well, the precautions that must be taken by those
who use, for therapeutic purposes, by-products
of morphine and cocaine. Even in the case of a simple Sudafed tablet, it is recommended
not to drive a motor vehicle because of side effects. Indeed, this restriction would
probably also apply to those who take marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
We must bear in mind, however, that the side effects of marijuana are considered less
harmful than those of at least two products that are widely used. As a matter of
fact, a report produced by a group of French and
foreign experts, and entitled Problèmes posés par la dangerosité des drogues, came
to the conclusion that the use of marijuana is less hazardous than the use of alcohol
or tobacco. These conclusions are consistent with
the results of a similar study conducted on behalf of the UN World Health Organization.
The side effects of a drug cannot be dissociated from its benefits.
For many patients the various benefits of marijuana far outweigh the side effects
known to be less serious than those of alcohol or nicotine. It is in this context
that the British Medical Association publicly asked the
police and the courts to tolerate the therapeutic use of marijuana.
In its report, the association says that some patients are condemned to using an illegal
drug to relieve symptoms no existing medication can control and that there is compelling
evidence that marijuana can help in
The British government responded to this request by allowing a pharmaceutical company
to grow and supply cannabis for medical research, which led the Royal Pharmaceutical
Society of Great Britain to say she is
confident prescriptions will be allowed within the next three years.
In the U.S., 28 states already have laws on the therapeutic use of marijuana. During
the 1998 elections, six other states held a referendum on the issue. In all six cases,
measures favouring the therapeutic use of
marijuana got the majority of the popular vote.
In Canada and Quebec, physicians are mobilizing to make the medical benefits of marijuana
better known. They point out that marijuana relieves nausea and stimulates the appetite,
which can help save the life of patients suffering from anemia because of chemotherapy or AIDS treatments.
A cross-Canada poll has shown wide support, 83%, for the legalization of marijuana
for therapeutic uses. The Globe and Mail commissioned that Angus Reid poll on November
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On the political front, the Progressive Conservative Party, the NDP and the Bloc are
in favour of legalization of marijuana for therapeutic uses, and individual members
of the Liberal Party and the Reform Party are also in favour.
As far as the federal government is concerned, the health and justice ministers stated
in the House in March 1998 that this important issue was under consideration in their
There is no place here for petty politics, for this question is too important for
thousands of patients.
Nine months have gone by, and the federal government has still not come up with a
policy, and the ministers have not yet given a date for one. This is cause for concern,
because people are suffering. I urge all legislators to support this motion so that
people affected by diseases like AIDS or multiple sclerosis who do not have any suitable
drug available to them can at last be relieved of their pain.