Thursday, March 4, 1999
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA FOR HEALTH AND MEDICAL PURPOSES
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North Centre, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating the hon. member for Rosemont for this
initiative and for the role he has played in encouraging the federal government and the Minister of Health to take steps to allow the legal use of marijuana for health and medical purposes.
I would like to offer my support for this resolution, which states very clearly:
the government should undertake all necessary steps to legalize
the use of marijuana for health and medical purposes.
Many of my colleagues in the NDP caucus have also worked very hard on this issue but I want to acknowledge many in our party who have come before us and have been quite outspoken on this matter over the years. All of us in our own ways have tried to find ways to put pressure on the federal government to act on behalf of persons who need to use marijuana for medical purposes, who need to find some relief from pain and suffering or to deal with the symptoms of chronic or terminal illnesses.
We all know that these people who are speaking out and asking for action are already in a poor physical state and are being forced to purchase marijuana illegally and with the risk of arrest.
We are here today to join with the Bloc and with all members in the House who support this view to urge the Liberal government today to take a brave step to overcome the history and associations of marijuana and recognize its value to the medical community as a part of legitimate treatment options.
We urge the Minister of Health, in the commitment that he made yesterday, to work with the Minister of Justice to ensure that people who use marijuana for medical purposes are never subject to prosecution.
Today we have before us this resolution from the Bloc now amended by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health which will require some study and deliberations before we are prepared to indicate our support for the amended motion. Our major concern will be whether the intentions of the
government, as stated today, will in any way inhibit access for those people who are suffering today.
It is one thing for the government to announce a plan of action to move on this very critical issue. It is another thing for individuals suffering from AIDS and other illnesses to wait four or five months before they will know whether there will be access.
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It certainly does not answer the question about all those individuals who have been charged as a result of possession of marijuana for medical purposes, nor does it address the question of whether individual currently under doctor's orders to access marijuana will be charged in the first place.
We have many questions that must be addressed. I think for all of us here today our concern is with trying to find a way to immediately alleviate the pain and suffering of individuals for whom marijuana prescribed on a medical basis is an important solution, an important alternative.
Members of the Reform Party have presented different positions to us and they are certainly going through a great deal of soul searching about where they stand on this issue. There are broader issues to be addressed. I think for today it is important for all of us to say that we must address this issue from the point of view of compassion and we must do it on the basis of a great deal of urgency.
I do not have to repeat the many arguments that have been presented to the House about the medical value of marijuana. I think it is important to simply summarize some of the information that has come from the medical and scientific community.
We know from studies that marijuana has been proven to be effective in reducing pressure in glaucoma. It has been proven to be successful in reducing vomiting and nausea associated with chemotherapy. It has been clearly identified as stimulating appetite in patients with AIDS wasting syndrome. It has been found to be useful in controlling spasticity associated with spinal cord injuries and MS. It has been found to decrease suffering from chronic pain. It has been found to be useful in controlling seizures in seizure disorders.
Marijuana is also considered to have a potential for a number of other conditions such as emphysema, because it dilates the bronchioles in lungs and in migraines. It has a wide margin of safety and by all accounts is non-lethal.
The other important factor in all this is that marijuana used for medical purposes does not have many of the side effects that so many other treatments entail, side effects that sometimes are so serious that patients
stop using the medications despite their suffering.
I refer members to a 1997 editorial in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine which refers to the parallel American prohibition as "misguided, heavy handed and inhumane". It also states: "To demand evidence of therapeutic efficacy is equally hypocritical. The noxious sensations that patients experience are extremely difficult to quantify in controlled experiments. What really counts for a therapy with this kind of safety margin is whether a seriously ill patient feels relief as a result of the intervention, not whether a controlled trial proves its efficacy".
Many scientists who are convinced of the value of marijuana in terms of its medical significance are advising patients to use it despite the legal risks.
I point to another study quoted in the national news on September 24, 1998: "Science is assembling convincing evidence that Queen Victoria was not merely catering to royal whim when she used marijuana to numb her menstrual cramps. " Researchers at the University of California have discovered that
cannabis triggers a pain suppressing circuit in the brains of rats, which demonstrates that the drug is indeed a pain killer".
The article outlines significant scientific and medical information to lead us to believe that study and research have been done on this issue. We may be just delaying the need to act by talking about clinical trials and further study before moving as quickly as possible on this matter.
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I remind members of the most recent letter from the Canadian AIDS Society which urged all of us to support the resolution put forward by the hon. member for Rosemont: As a result of the illness facing people with HIV and AIDS individuals often suffer severe nausea and an inability to eat. Wasting, which is a lack of body fat and muscle mass, is one of the leading causes of death for people with HIV and AIDS. Many of the current drug regimes that individuals are prescribed include strict timetables of when they can and cannot take the medication as well as whether the medicationsneed to be taken with food or without. The side effects of these medications often include nausea".
There is ample evidence of the benefits of marijuana use on a medical basis. There have been significant studies and clinical trials. I think the time is now for action.
What does the amendment put forward by the government today mean in terms of legal ramifications for people who are either charged now with illegal possession or are perhaps facing charges? I suggest to the minister that there is provision now within our Food and Drugs Act for actually ensuring that under the emergency relief program we can ensure reasonable and responsible access to marijuana for treatment in keeping with the requirements of Canadian law pertaining to the use of marijuana as a new drug under the Food and Drugs Act and as a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
We will study very diligently the amendment of the government but we strongly support the motion put forward by the Bloc member and we urge the government to move quickly. We may need more clinical trials, more studies and more research but we also need to act immediately to deal with the pain\ and suffering of many individuals for whom there is no other reasonable alternative.