Wednesday, May 25, 1999
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA FOR HEALTH AND MEDICAL PURPOSES
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough, PC):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Nova Scotia for the brevity of his remarks
so that I might participate. I say at the outset that the Progressive Conservative
Party agrees with comments which have been made with respect to Motion No. 381 put
forward by the member for Rosemont. This is an issue of compassion.
A very important comment was made by a previous speaker regarding the government's
tendency to borrow opposition motions and previous governments' initiatives. Although
no one has a patent on good ideas, Canadians have witnessed a government that has
established a record of policy plagiarism.
The hon. member for Rosemont brought forward a motion which calls upon the government
to bring about change in our health care system, our medical practice, that would
allow for the medical prescription of marijuana in pain control. The most important
point to keep in mind about the issue is that the motion is aimed at those who are affected
and are currently suffering from very serious illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, MS
and glaucoma. These individuals are suffering every day and it appears very little
can be done with current medical procedures to ease the pain and
ease the mind, particularly knowing that many of these diseases are fatal.
Forcing people to acquire a painkiller like the currently illegal marijuana certainly
adds to the mental anguish. We are on the horns of a classic dilemma. We have a legally
restricted activity, a social wrong that was created by law, yet a humane need to
I want to be clear. My position or that of the Conservative Party should not be mistaken
as advocating drug use for any non-medical purpose. In fact it is quite the contrary.
We are advocating a shift in the approach taken to the enforcement of drug use, particularly marijuana that is used for a very limited purpose, that being the medical
tranquillity of suffering.
The key words here are health and medical purposes. We are talking about the compassionate
use of a substance which is presently illegal in all circumstances. A number of substances
are currently being used in the practice of medicine which are prescribed by doctors quite often to control
pain, substances such as codeine, morphine and heroin which are perfect examples of
drugs that in other circumstances would certainly be deemed illegal. Heroin, for
example, has been used with a doctor's prescription since 1985 to ease the pain and
suffering of Canadians fighting side effects of illnesses.
We can separate crime from medicine with very definitive, decisive laws. Further research
may lead to a chemical production of a byproduct of marijuana which might be taken
in a different form, that is taken orally through a pill. The use of a drug to relieve pain in those suffering from
terminal illnesses, not for recreational use, is the aim of this motion. Delay in
bringing this about will cause further pain and suffering for those afflicted.
On May 6 Jim Wakeford, a Toronto man suffering from advanced AIDS, applied for and
finally received permission from Health Canada to use marijuana after fighting in
the courts for years. Courts have recognized the humane need. Legislators like the
Parliament of Canada should lead, not follow, on an issue such as this one. We cannot make
criminals out of those needing our compassion or those who are trying to ease suffering.
The Compassion Club of Vancouver, also mentioned in the debate, supplies marijuana
at no cost, free, solely to ease the pain of sick people on the lower mainland. This
club is illegal but receives referrals from agencies of individuals suffering from
AIDS or multiple sclerosis. It is a secure
environment with a very good quality of marijuana, unlike that often found on the
streets which might be laced with another substance.
The health minister promised in March that he would take steps toward helping seriously
ill Canadians who require medical access to marijuana. The guidance document makes
no reference to the severity of illness. It does not distinguish between terminal
and non-terminal cases. There is a
number of ambiguities.
The health minister is simply taking too long. Hilary Black, the Compassion Club founder,
has stated that the slow speed of the minister's initiative means that more people
will have to come into her clinic. Those individuals will continue to suffer until
legislation is passed.
A fast response and a strict guide or criteria are needed, as is a clear definition
that doctors' prescriptions will be granted therefore avoiding litigation, confusion
and further delay.
A number of facts about marijuana have been touched upon already. One matter to keep
in mind is that when it comes to glaucoma it reduces eye pressure, which reduces
pain. It reduces spasms in victims who are suffering from multiple sclerosis. It
reduces nausea in the treatment of
cancer patients. It helps alleviate depression and regain appetite in those suffering
from AIDS. There are no real side effects, aside from some dulling of the senses.
As we know, some of the side effects from the horrific treatments which are undergone,
in particular I am thinking of radiation, are sometimes worse than the actual symptoms
of the illness the patient is suffering.
The Canadian Medical Association since 1981 has advocated the decriminalization of
the possession of marijuana. It is encouraging to see that we in this place and in
other parts of the country are finally catching up. The Canadian Police Association
has taken a very positive view
of this step. There are certainly noble reasons to permit the medical useof marijuana.
The Canadian Medical Association however recommends that the federal government, with
respect to the jurisdictional aspect, move toward changes in our Narcotics Control
Act and our Food and Drugs Act to keep up with this current trend. This position
raises concerns about the herbal medicine aspect and the fact that it cannot be patented.
The association states that there is a possibility that there will be exploitation
of research if guidelines are not put in place. The government can address these
problems and make changes to other legislation which will have to be amended.
There is also concern, I might add, on a number of levels, one being the chemical
content that may come into play. These plants vary from plant to plant with respect
to dosage. There is also concern about the standardization and the reproductability
of clinical trials which will be problematic when it comes to putting the medical use forward.
It would be almost impossible to conduct blind trials without having some consistency
in the approach. There is also concern about the delivery of the drug and it not
being reliable from patient to patient as the dose depends on the delivery technique.
These are obviously scientific matters that will have to be addressed in order for
there to be consistency and in order for there to be safety, one of the underlying
elements which always has to be kept in mind.
There is concern as well about research in this area. Quality research, random control
trials and a guide to decision making are very appropriate when it comes to the needed
standardized approach. There is no consistency in terms of the product available
at this time. The dosage, the length of
use and the possibility of addiction are areas that will have to be further researched.
Different drugs will have a different effect on individuals. There is also the aspect
of the synergistic effect that marijuana might have when taken in conjunction with
other chemicals and in consideration of a person's bodily make-up.
The patient's perspective is something that has to be emphasized. A person who requires
marijuana and feels the physical need to use it to reduce suffering even with the
mental effect it has certainly legitimizes the efforts to move toward the decriminalization of marijuana for this very limited purpose.
We cannot ignore that drugs are a consistent problem in today's society, but this
is not a step toward legalizing marijuana in its entirety. I do not advocate that
position at all. With the checks and balances that are needed there seems to be an
opportunity before us. If the government is
diligent and forward looking in its approach I am sure we can move this matter forward.
We support this initiative cautiously and encourage the government to move swiftly
and decisively. I congratulate the member for Rosemont for taking this initiative
and we look forward to further debate on the issue before the House.
[Translation] The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland):
Pursuant to the order adopted earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of
the said motion are deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred
until the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders later this day.
[English] Orders of the day will commence at noon. SUSPENSION OF SITTING
Ms. Marlene Catterall:
Mr. Speaker, I think you might find the consent of the House to suspend the sitting
until 12 noon.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland): Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed. (The sitting of the House was suspended at