Thursday, March 4, 1999



Mr. Greg Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest, PC):

Madam Speaker, the debate today really centres around the word compassion. I want to read the motion so that the viewing audience has a chance to hear it once again:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should undertake all necessary steps to legalize the use of marijuana for health and medical purposes.

Those are the key words, health and medical purposes. We are talking about a compassionate use of a substance which is illegal.

The debate today could be taking place on any number of substances used for pain relief in medicine, prescribed by doctors on a timely basis in cases where they are needed.

Let us imagine for a minute whether we should be debating the use of morphine. Should we not be talking about the use of codeine, morphine or heroin? What we are talking about is the use of a drug to relieve pain in those who are suffering.

I think that is very commendable. We are not talking about the legalization of the product for recreational or casual use. We are talking about a drug prescribed by doctors to help patients deal with the threshold of pain and suffering. In many cases we are talking obviously of terminally ill patients.

The Canadian Medical Association, which I consulted on this, has some interesting observations. I think it is worth putting these on the record as well. It is not cut and dry. Certain considerations have to be made any time a substance is used for medicinal purposes. Some of these are outlined very clearly by the CMA.

I quote a letter to me from the CMA which says the CMA has advocated the decriminalization of the possession of marijuana for many years. I think that position goes back to 1981.

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The position of the Canadian Medical Association is:

That the Canadian Medical Association recommend to the federal government that the jurisdictional control of marijuana be moved from the Narcotics Act to the Food and Drugs Act and that all past criminal records related to simple possession be erased.

It has a very strong position on the decriminalization of the use of marijuana. However, when it comes to the medical use of marijuana, it is quite ironic that it has concerns, some of which I will outline.

The CMA is concerned that as a herbal medicine it cannot be patented. It says that exploitation of research is therefore precluded.

It is concerned that the chemical content can vary considerably from plant to plant.

It is concerned that the standardization and reproducibility of clinical trials is problematic as the plant and its delivery system is unique and, therefore, it would be almost impossible to conduct blind trials.

Another reservation is that the delivery system is not reliable from patient to patient as the dose received depends upon the delivery technique.

Another concern is that there is almost no independent quality research available, such as randomized control trials, to guide decision making on the appropriate and effective medical use of marijuana or the side effects and risks associated with its consumption.

I think that everyone in this House would agree with some of those concerns. Basically, it boils down to the consistency of the product being used.

We heard from some members in this House as to whether or not it is really effective. However, if it is working on some patients and not on others, it is probably not unlike any other drug. Different drugs have different effects on people because of the chemistry of the human body. I think that is to be expected.

Part of it, probably from the patient's perspective, is what they believe. It is like the individual who wears a copper bracelet for rheumatism or arthritis. I guess if they believe that it works and they say that it works, it probably does work.

This has been a hotly debated topic. I want to quote from the transcript of a program by Dr. David Suzuki. I think most of us from time to time have watched

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): I am afraid that I must interrupt the member at this point. However, I wish to tell him that the next time this bill comes before the House he will have approximately four minutes if he wishes to use that opportunity.

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired.

Mr. Gar Knutson: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think you would find unanimous consent to allow the member to finish the four minutes.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): Is there unanimous consent for the member to finish?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

Mr. Greg Thompson: Madam Speaker, the House is being very generous tonight and I appreciate it because we did start early.

Dr. Suzuki in his program was talking to his listening audience about marijuana and its use. He was talking about a gentleman who had a sick son. I want to put this on the record because it spells out pretty clearly the effects and how positive it can be when used for the right reasons.

A gentleman by the name of Lester Grinspoon was speaking. He said:

My son who in 1967 was diagnosed as having acute lymphatic leukemia, he was 10 years-old then. By the time he reached the age of 13, was beginning to get some of the cancer chemotherapeutic substances which cause severe nausea and vomiting. He would vomit for about eight hours or have the dry heaves for eight hours. He would vomit in the car on the way home from the hospital and just lie in his room with his head over a bucket on the floor.

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That is a very common experience for any of us who have had relatives and loved ones who were sick and receiving chemotherapy. It is not unusual for that to happen.

He went on to say that he and his wife were at a dinner party and a doctor recommended the use of marijuana for this young boy. He said:

On the way home from that dinner party my wife Betsy said "Well, maybe we should get some marijuana for Danny". I'm ashamed to say it, I said "No we can't do that. It's against the law and we don't want to embarrass the people at the Children's Hospital who are taking such great care of Danny". His next chemotherapy was due a couple of weeks later and Betsy and Danny smoked in the parking lot outside of the Children's Hospital. I couldn't believe what happened because not only did he not have any nausea but he even asked his mother "Could we get a submarine sandwich on the way home?" And I then called Dr. Jaffy who was the doctor who was directly involved in Danny's care and said to him "Look", I told him the story, I said "I'm not going to stand in the way of his using marijuana this time".

The story goes on in quite a bit of detail. Basically what it is saying is that it does work under controlled circumstances. I believe that the House has to consider that.

Again, going back to the very nature of this bill, we are talking about the word compassion. In relation to other substances out there let us give it a try under controlled conditions, under doctor's orders. If we could do that we would be prepared to support this bill.

Ms. Elinor Caplan: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I want to correct the record. The correct name of the riding I was referring to is Okanagan Coquihalla.


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault): The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

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