Wednesday May 25, 1999



Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Ref.):

Mr. Speaker, the bill relates to something that is at the forefront of a number of people's minds. It deals with the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Tragically there are a number of people in our country who are suffering from debilitating diseases or are in the process of dying who need hospice care and therapeutics to relieve their suffering. In some cases we have been unable to prevent the suffering they endure in their dying moments or
in their time of need and some of those people have turned toward smoking marijuana to relieve that suffering.

We do not know if the effects of marijuana consumed under those conditions are due to a medical or therapeutic effect due to the intrinsic pharmaceutical property of marijuana or whether this is a placebo effect. As a physician, I personally do not care. In my view, if somebody is dying they should be able to participate in whatever it takes to relieve their suffering as long as it does not hurt anybody else.

We have no interest in legalizing marijuana or any other currently illegal drug for general consumption. Some would disagree, but the reason for this is that there is an overwhelming body of evidence to show that marijuana is a harmful drug.

There are over 200 substances within marijuana. Some of those substances do have a detrimental effect to a person's functioning in the short term and in the long term. This is particularly profound among children who sustain cognitive disabilities as a result of the chronic consumption of marijuana. We have no interest whatsoever in furthering that. In fact, we would like to prevent it. The bill deals with the medical use of marijuana.


The government needs to work with the medical community and stakeholders to ensure there is a well defined group of people allowed to use marijuana under certain conditions. We do not want this to become a loophole whereby people can say they have a headache and need to take marijuana.

I congratulate the Minister of Health for asking the Department of Health to undertake studies on the medical effects of marijuana under these circumstances. We would like to do our best to ensure people are taking substances based on good medical science and not for other reasons.

Another problem in our country is how we are dealing with the overall drug consumption. We tend to try to manage these problems rather than to prevent them. I have spent quite a bit of time working in drug rehabilitation and detox centres. What we are doing right now by and large simply does not work. Our response to the terrible problems that drugs are inflicting on our society is to try to prevent this when teenagers are doing it or when adults are doing it. We try to deal with the management of the problem rather than dealing with children very early on in trying to prevent it.

We, along with other countries, invest a lot of money internationally trying to deal with the countries that are producing it. We try to deal with the peasants in Columbia and in southeast Asia who are producing and growing poppies in order to get money to put bread on their tables. Who can argue with these very poor people who want to be able to grow these drugs in order to survive? I would argue that most people in similar circumstances, being faced with abject poverty and an inability to care for themselves and their families, would do whatever it took to ensure that

To invest money on that side is a losing proposition and we have been unsuccessful. We spend a lot of money dealing with the producers of drugs rather than dealing with the demand. We and other countries must focus more on preventing the consumption within our own countries of illegal
substances such as pot, heroin, cocaine, Ritalin, T's and R's and a kaleidoscope of illegal drugs used by many people. If we put more money into prevention to deal with the demand within our own country the supply would have to dry up. If nobody would want to consume the substances
production would have to stop. Rather than investing huge amounts of money in drug interdiction in other countries like Columbia, Burma and others, we need to look closer to home and try to deal with our consumption.

We found out that if we start dealing with children very early on when they are eight to ten years of age, we will get the best bang for our buck. Dealing with children early on will have the most profound effect on our future ability to prevent children and therefore adults from consuming
drugs. The head start program has had a profound effect in parts of our country, in particular in Moncton, New Brunswick, and in other parts of the world such as Ypsilanti, Michigan and Hawaii. The Minister of Labour has been a leader in pursuing this as has the secretary of state for youth who has taken a very big interest in this issue and has pursued it with great vigour.

If we all get behind the concept of a national head start program that uses existing resources, we can start dealing with children in the first eight years of life. We will deal not only with consumptive practices in teenagers and adults, but we will also try to address the very important
issue of fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol effects and the effect of drug consumption while a woman is pregnant. This is no small problem. The leading cause of preventable brain damage in our country is fetal alcohol syndrome. It is epidemic.


The problems for people suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be understated. These people have an average IQ of 68. They have physical deformities. They have a number of other problems such as cognitive deficiencies. When children who have FAS of FAE go to school, their ability to interact with their peers, to study in school and to concentrate is marred forever. They have irreversible brain damage.

When the child tries to interact at school teachers are often ill equipped and under tasked to deal with them. The child becomes marginalized. The child does not get the help the little one needs and progressively becomes more isolated. Developmental and behavioural problems occur which can manifest themselves not only in behavioural problems at school but also tragically can lead to drug consumption and criminal behaviour.

It is a terrible vicious cycle which is very difficult to break. Imagine if that cycle could be broken and the child's brain had never been damaged by being subjected to alcohol and drugs in utero. The child would have a fighting chance and could potentially be on a much more level playing field.

I implore the government to look at the national head start program. Look at what the Minister of Labour has done. Look at what the Secretary of State for Children and Youth is doing on this issue. Work with members across party lines to prevent social problems rather than to manage them. The benefits of doing this are dramatic on a number of levels. They found a 50% reduction in youth crime and a 40% reduction in teen pregnancies which is a one-way route for poverty usually for both the mom and the child. They found a massive decrease in welfare. Children stayed in school longer.

In short, the head start program dealing with existing resources, strengthening the parent-child bond, teaching parents how to be good parents, learning the importance of play, discipline, setting boundaries, ensuring that children's basic needs are met, the importance of nutrition for a growing child all sound basic, but members would be surprised how many communities across the country lack them. We have to address this now. The longer we do not deal with the preventative aspects for children in the first eight years of life, the longer we will have the tragic situations we see in so many communities today.

In closing, the motion is a good one. It needs to be applied to the medicinal use of marijuana. We would like to see medical studies to substantiate this. We would also like to ensure that this is not going to be a route to legalizing marijuana which we are opposed to.

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