Wednesday, April 14, 1999



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
some circumstances.

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 4, 1997.

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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 departments.

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.

I ask for a unanimous vote on this motion.

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