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The war on pot brownies

by papapuff » Thu Oct 16, 2014 11:44 am

National Post


Marni Soupcoff: The war on pot brownies

Marni Soupcoff | October 16, 2014

Medical marijuana is legal in Canada. Well, sort of legal. At least some of the time. In certain ways.

Health Canada helpfully clarifies all on its website by explaining that “dried marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada … [pause for a beat] but courts have required reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana when authorized by a physician.” So, make no mistake, the government still hates marijuana. It’s not going to endorse the stuff, or admit that pot might do any kind of good in any circumstances. It’s definitely not going to call it medicine.

However, the government has been told, it’s got to give people who are debilitated by illness the option to get their hands on medicinal marijuana that can relieve their suffering. The Constitution’s guarantee of security of the person requires it. So the government is doing so. Grudgingly.

Just how grudgingly became evident this autumn.

Last month, the government filed notice with the Supreme Court of Canada that it would be appealing an August B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that said that Canadians in need of medical marijuana had a right to access cannabis in any form, not just the dried plant material contemplated by current legislation

There are many good reasons for patients to prefer cannabis teas or lotions (or butters or brownies or the like) to the dried stuff that you smoke. The obvious motivations include being too nauseous to deal with inhaling smoke (extreme nausea related to cancer treatment can be a reason for needing the marijuana in the first place); wanting to protect one’s body from a risk of lung cancer and respiratory diseases; and appreciating the far longer-lasting effects of orally ingested cannabis — if you’re in chronic pain, you want something that will offer relief for greater periods in between doses.

But the soundness of the rationale is almost beside the point. “[T]he restriction to dried marijuana interfered with [the patients’] physical or psychological integrity,” wrote Justice Risa Levine in August in the court’s written reasons. The key is that once a doctor has deemed you in medical need of marijuana, it should be none of the government’s business whether you choose to smoke the stuff or eat it. Or smear it on your temples while reciting healing mantras.

The government’s insistence on fighting this decision yet again (they were the ones who brought the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal after losing at the trial level) is discouraging.

Since the people affected by this restriction are disabled or very ill, the insistence on fighting to maintain it is especially hard to countenance


There are certainly legitimate health and safety concerns posed by marijuana use in general, and debating how those are best handled is constructive. But drawing, and vigorously defending, arbitrary lines about how marijuana can be taken in a context in which the drug has already been established as a legal option is just vengeful and pigheaded. As two lower courts have pointed out, it also evidences a lack of respect for Canadians’ Charter-guaranteed right to security of the person. Since the people affected by this restriction are disabled or very ill, the insistence on fighting to maintain it is especially hard to countenance.

Outside of the bureaucracy, a reasoned marijuana debate continues as if being held on another planet.

At the same time that government lawyers are preparing their spirited case for the complete eradication of pot chocolate-chip cookies, the well-respected Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has just released a new policy document calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana sales as a means of better lessening or eliminating the harms the substance can cause.

The CAMH plan is no dream come true for libertarians. As the hospital’s director of social and epidemiological research Dr. Jurgen Rehm told CBC’s Metro Morning radio program, CAMH is championing a government monopoly on marijuana sales and a ban on marketing, advertising and promotion. There was mention of “plain packaging,” so you can forget any ideas of purchasing pot in cheerful tie-dyed sachets.

The point, though, is that CAMH is an institution whose entire raison d’etre is furthering public health and helping those struggling with the worst consequences of drug use and abuse. Despite that background, or perhaps exactly because of it, CAMH is light years ahead of government when it comes to supporting legal access to marijuana in the general population, never mind those with serious medical issues.

If security of the person is to mean anything, it surely must include a right to take care of one’s own body and health.

If years of experience and public policy research have shown us anything, it surely must be that legal bans on drugs are ineffective at minimizing harm.

So why is our government taking an attack on medicinal pot brownies to the highest court in the land?

National Post

Marni Soupcoff is the executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.
papapuff
 
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