Thursday, March 4, 1999
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA FOR HEALTH AND MEDICAL PURPOSES
Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Surrey Central, Ref.):
I heard the amendment. On the face of it the amendment appears to be okay as long as this is not a backdoor entry for legalizing marijuana smoking. As long as a firm guideline is established, probably it should be supported.
I have only recently undertaken the role of the official opposition's deputy critic for health. My constituents and my colleagues are proud to have me speak to Motion No. 381 and express our compassion for the predicament faced by those Canadians suffering from the diseases and
conditions that cause them to turn in desperation to marijuana to ease their symptoms.
Looking through the lens of compassion, my efforts on this issue are dedicated first and foremost toward the thousands of Canadians who are desperately seeking medicinal therapy for various illnesses. These
Canadians admittedly are frustrated at being in a situation where the only source of relief from their illness comes from smoking a substance that carries many extremely harmful side effects.
With them I seek less harmful alternatives. It is very important to look through the sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Therefore, I will continue to be outspoken on behalf of Canadians who are sick and seek safe medicine.
Historically, the use of marijuana goes back centuries. The remains of a woman from the fourth century were discovered. The woman had died giving birth. There were marijuana leaves found near her dead body at the site. Apparently she was inhaling marijuana, relieving her pain all those hundreds of years ago.
To review the pros and cons, let us see how various professionals look at this issue. Medically, THC, the drug in the marijuana plant, is known to be helpful to treat symptoms of cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, epileptic seizures, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches.
In the United States there are people who would like to have marijuana moved from schedule 1 substances where it is deemed to have no therapeutic use, to schedule 2 substances which are useful drugs that can be prescribed by doctors. There are people who would like to see it treated as a herbal remedy instead of a drug.
Talking of support for legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, in a national U.S. survey, 50% of cancer therapists said they would prescribe marijuana if it were legal and 44% said they are already suggesting it. It is far less addictive and far less subject to abuse than other drugs used as muscle relaxants, hypnotics or analgesics, according to the survey.
According to Harvard University, the chief concern about the use of marijuana is the effect on the lungs of smoking it. Cannabis smoke carries even more tars and other particulate matter than tobacco smoke. Water pipes may reduce but cannot eliminate the side effects.
We are fast approaching the 21st century. We need to look into more advanced research to reap any benefits the drug can offer without side effects. Perhaps a technological inhalation of cannabis vapours could be developed, an inhaler for example, or something else which could deliver the contents of marijuana.
The question for us to consider is if it is ethical to deny people who are in pain something that will relieve their pain.
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The result of Dr. Corigall's research at the University of Toronto dealing with the effects of canna-binoids on the brain predicts that there could be a creation of a synthetic form of marijuana. In arguments against
legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, Dr. Corigall says that the dosage of marijuana as an analgesic cannot be regulated and ultimately people should not resort to smoking it to relieve their pain.
We already know that smoking is bad for us because of all the carcinogens that come with it.
Again on the negative side of the issue, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency official said in 1996 since there are better medicines with less harmful side effects than marijuana available for the diseases for which it is touted, medical marijuana is a cruel hoax. It does not help. It does more harm than good.
In another study, the chairman of the International Drug Strategy Institute two years ago said, "suggesting that marijuana be smoked as a medicine would be like proposing tobacco be used for anxiety and weight loss".
The National Institute of Health determined that crude marijuana adds nothing to currently available medicine and indeed creates increased risk to patients. The U.S. National Institute of Health also says that a marijuana cigarette contains a complex mixture of over 400 different compounds, including carcinogens. This would be a concern for anyone but especially for patients with chronic disorders or impaired immune systems.
The U.S. National Eye Institute fact sheet on the therapeutic use of marijuana for glaucoma states that none of the studies demonstrates that marijuana or any of its components could safely and effectively prevent
optic nerve damage from glaucoma. Also, there are about 24 FDA approved drugs for the treatment of glaucoma.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute notes that inhaling marijuana smoke is a health hazard. It has a long list of agents that are more useful than marijuana.
We need to look as well at the positions put forward by different professionals.
Lawyers have said through the Canadian Bar Association that the government's drug policies are misguided. They are in favour of decriminalizing marijuana because to continue the government's
approach is doing more harm than good. The damage inflicted by the legal system seems disproportionate to the offence.
In 1993 the Canadian Police Association recommended making simple marijuana possession a ticketable offence, similar to speeding. The Ottawa police chief said that the risk of things going wrong during marijuana busts are too high.
In 1995, 43,000 Canadians were charged with 62,000 drug offences, and 71% of them were for marijuana. In the past 20 years, 700,000 Canadians were arrested on marijuana charges. Since 1995 in British Columbia, B.C. police have been advised to stop laying marijuana charges because of court backlogs.
Let us look at what the medical community says. The World Health Organization treats drug abuse as a health issue. In those countries that treat drug abuse as a health matter rather than a criminal matter, people are not afraid to seek help. Drug abuse declines and remains at lower levels in those countries.
Providing treatment for drug abusers makes more sense than prison terms. The goal is a healthy population.
With these things in mind, we should study using marijuana for health and medicinal purposes.
In conclusion, I would say what is important to me is compassion. If nothing else works for the diseases and suffering, I do not see anything as a barrier.
I would expect to have more research done. Through research and innovation, harmless methods may be found to benefit from the medicinal use of marijuana.
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Reform is concerned with substance abuse of any kind, whether it is drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana. I warn Canadians that the Liberal government may use this issue of the medicinal use of marijuana smoking to legalize it through the back door.
As long as it sticks to the amendments and as long as it has a reasonable plan we will probably be supportive.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): The amendment presented by the member earlier is in order.
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