Wednesday, April 14, 1999



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Mrs. Pauline Picard (Drummond, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in today's debate on the use of marijuana for health purposes.

This is a health debate, a justice debate, based on the values of fairness,mutual aid and compassion that we all share as a society.

Unfortunately, the motion, as amended by the Parliamentary Secretary to theMinister of Health, no longer mentions the legalization of marijuana, which is a matter of concern. It now talks about the "possible legal

medical use of marijuana". In our view, this is a step backwards since the government has asserted many times that it was open to the idea and eager to look into it further.

In fact, more than a year ago, my colleague from Rosemont asked the Minister of Health to set up a parliamentary committee to consider the issue. The minister replied that the question was under consideration, that some people were already studying the matter. He said, and I quote: "The issue is under consideration by my department and by the Department of Justice. Along with my colleague, we are reviewing all the aspects of the issue. We hope to present our policy in the coming months".

Thirteen months after this statement, we are still waiting for some answers and for some concrete measures by the minister or his colleague, the Minister of Justice, who, a year ago, had already started to review all the
aspects of this important issue.

In our view, at the present time the government is holding hostage thousands of people who are suffering and waiting for a sign of hope while risking six months in jail and a $1,000 fine in order to buy marijuana on the black market.

Currently, this debate is about medical issues. But it is also a matter of compassion. More often than not people with HIV/AIDS or other diseases suffer from extreme nausea and are unable to eat. This is a problem, since some of the drugs prescribed to them must be taken with food.

If the patient is successful in taking his medication in spite of the nausea and lack of appetite, he might be affected by side effects: more nausea or even total intolerance to the drug itself.

For some, the solution to these problems has been to smoke or inhale marijuana. It eases nausea and stimulates the appetite. Currently these men and women must break the law to get relief. This is intolerable in a
country boasting one of the best health care systems in the world.

Nobody doubts the therapeutic effectiveness of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana. As a matter of fact, for a number of years already physicians have been prescribing Marinol pills containing synthetic THC.
This drug is available in drugstores. However even Marinol is not as effective as inhaled marijuana.

Many physicians are asking to be allowed to prescribe THC, arguing they are in the best position to determine in which form marijuana will be the best able to help their patients.

The positive effects of THC have been know for a long time, but, strangely enough, it is only recently that medical authorities have started to examine seriously through clinical research these effects and potential
medical applications.

Last March, the American medical institute published a report that found, once again, that marijuana has an excellent medical potential.

In November of 1998, the British science and technology committee of the House of Lords took a strong stand in favour of the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic uses. The chairman of the committee stated "We
have enough evidence to be convinced that physicians should be allowed to prescribe marijuana to ease the suffering of the sick or the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, criminal code notwithstanding".

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Recent research has confirmed earlier reports, including those of the World Health Organization, which are more and more dispelling myths about the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Since the beginning of his campaign, my colleague from Rosemont has gathered a great deal of support, and more support keeps coming in. The Canadian AIDS Society, the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Hemophilia
Society and the Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida support motion M-381 without any reservation.

Not too long ago, the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation urged the health minister to act quickly on this issue. The Canadian Medical Association has been defending the decriminalization of simple
possession of marijuana since 1981 and deplores the lack of any systematic scientific research on the issue.

Support for decriminalization of marijuana for therapeutic purposes does not come just from the medical associations or social groups; according to a survey carried out last month, close to 80% of the population are in favour of this major change.

Health Canada has had a program since 1966 whereby certain patients may receive unauthorised drugs so that they do not have to suffer needlessly while awaiting authorisation of a product that could help them. Jean-Charles Parizeau and James Wakeford, among others, have applied to obtain marijuana The government has not, however, given any concrete response as yet.

This is a problematic situation, because a recent Ontario Court decision on the Wakeford case almost found the Narcotics Act unconstitutional, since it has the effect of depriving certain individuals of the only effective treatment to alleviate their condition. It did not do so for just one reason: there is a way to obtain marijuana and other drugs, such as morphine and other unauthorized drugs, under the current legislation, via the special access program.

This means that, if the government persists in refusing to respond to requests, or refuses access to marijuana through the special access program, part of the Narcotics Act will become unconstitutional, not by law but by fact.

Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Wakeford, and others in their position, would have two choices available to them. First, to play the good citizen, to suffer and to die in the near future, or second to improve their condition and their quality of life by an illegal act. This is the impossible choice this government offers to those in needs. It is unacceptable.

In conclusion, the government must stop holding sick people hostage, stop waffling, stop letting the courts decide for it.

I would therefore like to propose an amendment to the amendment of Motion M-381. If the government is sincere in its desire to settle this important question, it will acknowledge that the change is well-founded.

I move:

That the amendment be amended by deleting the words "concerning the
possible legal" and substituting the following:

"to legalize the"

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