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Posted August 23, 2002
Analysis by Richard Cowan

It has not been a good time for Canadian medical cannabis patients.

On August 16th the Toronto police raided the Toronto Compassion Centre with guns drawn and arrested the staff who were subsequently released on bail conditions that forbade them to resume taking care of the sick and dying.

The TCC, established in 1997, was providing medical cannabis to 1,200 sick people before it was closed.
From 1998 see
Toronto Medical Marijuana Club Defying Law; Seven Similar Clubs To Open Across Southern Ontario.

Earlier today, roughly one hundred of the patients and their supporters demonstrated in front of Canadian Justice Department offices in Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

Law professor Alan Young, who is the attorney for the club said, "We operated for four years with impunity. The police knew about the centre and for reasons that will never be completely understood by me they raided them last week and put them out of business."

Now the sick and dying in the Toronto have to go to the streets to try to buy their medicine. For seriously ill people, most of whom have limits on both their finances and their mobility, that is virtually impossible. And what they can buy is of uncertain quality at best.

However, that was just the beginning. On Monday of this week, Canadian Health Minister, Anne McLellan, made a complete fool of herself (again) at the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Saint John, New Brunswick.
See
Blame DEAland: Canadian Health Minister Blames DEA for Canadian Medical Cannabis Fiasco. DEA Wouldn’t Sell Them Seeds. Now If Someone In Canada Would Go Into The Seed Business…
and
Canadian Justice Minister’s Bizarre Non-Response to Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner.
and links

Of course, making a fool of oneself at a CMA meeting might be the best way to fit in. As is common with trade unions, the CMA is dominated by highly politicized types who are not truly representative of their members. At least, one must hope that this group is not really representative, because they seem to be dominated by incompetent quacks.

In fairness to the CMA, they have endorsed the "decriminalization" – but not the legalization -- of cannabis. Doctors don’t like having their children get criminal records, but they can easily afford to pay the fines.
See
Journal of Canadian Medical Association Calls for Decriminalization. Perfect Timing. Contrast with DEAland.

While McLellan ducked the medical cannabis issue in her prepared remarks, her response to a question by an "addiction specialist" – more about him in a moment -- caused a national uproar and she has been back-peddling ever since.

She has been denounced on the editorial pages of almost every major paper in Canada. Indeed, by making such a fool of herself, she may have done more to advance the cause of medical cannabis than her predecessor did with his unworkable medical cannabis program did.

An Ottawa Citizen’s editorial responded to this by saying, "And yet the effect of the government's delaying tactics is that many more sick and dying human beings will either be denied this small relief or be forced to turn to the black market for it. It is to the government's shame that it would do this to the most vulnerable among us."

This is typical of the Canadian editorials, so it is not surprising that she has been dodging all week. She told a Canadian television news program on Tuesday that "There has been no change in the government's policy."

Part of her problem came from an incredibly inept choice of words. McLellan actually told the CMA, "I feel a certain degree of discomfort around this issue."

Oh the poor dear. Maybe some medical cannabis would lessen her discomfort!

She went on to say, "Therefore, while not insensitive to those who believe it helps them in their final days or in an acute illness situation, I do believe we owe it to all Canadians to ensure that we are doing the kinds of things we'd expect to do in relation to any other drug."

She thinks that "we owe it to all Canadians" to let patients suffer until "all Canadians" know all about medical cannabis? But an overwhelming majority of Canadians are in favor of medical cannabis, and there are hundreds of thousands already using it medically, according to a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association in June of 2000.

That report said, "The finding that about 2% of the population could claim the right to use marijuana for medical reasons, based on self-identified needs, challenges the development of a system to ensure access to quality-controlled marijuana for medical use and could fuel arguments for decriminalization of marijuana for personal use."

Despite the fact that almost half a million Canadians are already using cannabis medically did not stop her from following the usual party line:
"I have to be very concerned about the health and safety of Canadians," she said. "We are dealing with a drug that has not gone through the normal clinical trials that one would expect in relation to a product of this kind… As well as the fact that the federal Department of Health finds itself in a slightly ironic situation where I am responsible for the single largest campaign in the federal government, which is the anti-smoking campaign."

There are many things wrong with all that statement. First, cannabis is not a pharmaceutical product.

My friend John Conroy, the lawyer for Vancouver’s B.C. Compassion Society, who is going to the Supreme Court in December representing the case challenging the possession laws, said, "You have to look at it in my opinion like a (natural product) people can use with or without their doctor's consultation…. It's a way to stall, it's a way to cater to the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry. The people who control the manufacturing of drugs."

Second, cannabis is not tobacco, and also McLellan is also supposed to be concerned about IV drug abuse, but that has not lead to any opposition to the injection of medicines.

And none of the critics of medical cannabis ever recognize that vaporization makes the smoking issue irrelevant.
See
NORML -MAPS Study Shows Vaporizers Reduce Toxins in Marijuana Smoke.

But what has logic got to do with it?

Had she stopped there it would be bad enough, but she went on to say, "I hope this whole issue gets before the Supreme Court of Canada fairly soon so we will have the opportunity to re-argue this case before the Supreme Court so we can get some clarity about what is happening."

That is just breathtaking. It is typical that she would want to duck making a decision on something under her department, but until earlier this year she was Justice Minister, so she should know that there are no medical cannabis cases close to being heard by the Canadian Supreme Court!

As noted, in December the court will finally hear the challenges to the constitutionality of all of cannabis prohibition. There are three cases being argued simultaneously regarding, personal possession, possession with intent to sell, and sales, but nothing about medical cannabis, per se. Of course, if the court voids cannabis prohibition entirely that would make the medical question moot, except whether Canada’s struggling health care system will pay for cannabis or only the much more expensive and dangerous pharmaceuticals that have been through the required rituals.
See
Extraordinary Editorial in Winnipeg Free Press Outlines "Findings of Fact" In Possession Case to Be Heard by Canadian Supreme Court.

To make matters even worse, she should also know that – over two years ago -- while she was Justice minister, the Canadian government did not appeal a ruling by an Ontario court – and Toronto, where the club was closed, is in Ontario – that the cannabis possession laws would be null in Canada’s largest province, if the Canadian government did not provide a legal way for patients to get cannabis within one year.
See
Canadian Court Says Lack of Provision for Medical Marijuana Violates Fundamental Rights; Gives Parliament 12 Months to Fix Prohibition Laws -- Or Marijuana Possession Is Legal in Largest Province.

The government obviously has not done so, and does not appear to have any intention of doing so, but I have no idea why it is still illegal in Ontario for anyone to possess cannabis.

In any case, it is not at all clear what Health Canada is going to do about medical cannabis. McLellan has been frantically denying that there has been any change in the medical cannabis policies. If by that she means that it is still a total mess, I agree.

The reason that I previously called the Canadian medical cannabis program "unworkable" is that it placed the patients at the mercy of the organized quacks. The Canadian Medical Association, and at least two of its provincial counterparts, and the insurer for Canadian doctors have warned physicians against writing letters for patients to get access to medical cannabis from the government. Moreover, it takes six months to get to see a specialist in Canada, so the patients "should live so long" – so to speak.

When I refer to organized quackery consider that news reports said that McLellan was given "a round of applause" for following the prohibitionist party line.

Her statement was in response to a question from a Dr. Raju Hajela of Kingston, Ont. who is president of the Kingston-based Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine.

Dr Hajela: "It's estimated that one marijuana joint is as harmful as about 10 cigarettes…

There's no scientific evidence for the benefit. In my clinical practice, I see the harmful effects every day."

The IOM report and all of the findings of fact in Canadian Courts contradicts this statement.
See
Executive Summary Of The IOM Report, Marijuana And Medicine: Assessing The Science Base

In May of this year, The Globe and Mail reported that Dr. Hajela offers Transcendental Meditation to his patients as part of his "rehab" program. "TM allows the brain to function more coherently," Dr. Hajela says. "It has a calming effect on the nervous system. . . . People don't use drugs and alcohol as much after taking up TM."

Although it is claimed that TM has been shown in various studies to benefit patients, it would be impossible to do the sort of double blind studies on it that he demands for cannabis. I have no problem with TM, but there is nothing scientific about Hajela’s practice. Anyone so obviously ignorant of science should not be practicing medicine, much less giving advice on drug policy. He is hardly alone. A CMA spokesman, Dr. Isra Levy, debated Prof. Young on CBC television and sounded more like John Walters than a doctor.

Former Health Minister Alan Rock, who created the medical cannabis program said, "To my mind, it was pretty clear… We allow access to heroin and to morphine and to all kinds of other drugs which otherwise are unlawful and actually quite dangerous, but under controlled circumstances, we allow them."

He also strongly hinted that DEAland pressure was to blame. "The conclusion that I came to was that we can't base our policy on social issues like this on American standards, especially in an area where they're very conservative… We weren't, after all, talking about legalizing the drug. We were talking about compassionate access, and I just didn't think it was appropriate to take marching orders from Washington, D.C."

However, McLellan has always been a prohibitionist and she has never shown any understanding of the medical cannabis issue. DEAland may well be to blame for many things, but I really don’t think that it can be blamed for so many Canadian doctors being quacks and so many Canadian politicians being craven ignoramuses.


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