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Canada Moves Toward Legal
Medical Marijuana

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Summer 1999

On March 3, Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock authorized clinical trials on the usefulness of marijuana as medicine. On May 25, the House of Commons passed a bill to "take steps" toward legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana. The bill is a modification of a motion made by Bloc Quebecois MP Bernard Bigras, calling for Medical Marijuana legalization. The final bill passed by a vote of 204-29 (David Gamble, "MPs Back Move Toward Legalized Medicinal Pot," Montreal Gazette, May 26, 1999).

The Government is setting up clinical trials. Initially, researchers plan to use marijuana grown by the University of Mississippi for the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). On June 9, Minister Rock announced that he wants to start a Canadian farm for growing marijuana, saying, "I want a Canadian source. We're going to be putting the job out for tender [bid] to find someone who can grow us a reliable consistent quality for research purposes" (Anne Dawson, "Show Us Your Best Buzz, Growers Told, Toronto Sun, June 10, 1999).

Within a week of announcement, Rock received offers from two bidders: the Church of the Universe, based in Hamilton, Ontario, which uses marijuana as a sacrament, and Brian Taylor, Mayor of Grand Forks, British Columbia. Taylor is banned from entering the U.S. because of his views on the legal status of marijuana. He would like to see Hamilton become the medical marijuana capital of Canada. Taylor said that medical marijuana "could be a billion-dollar industry in Canada" (Ian Austin, "Mayor Wants To Corner Marijuana Market," Vancouver Province, June 14, 1999; Jonathan Gatehouse, "Nudist Pot-Smokers Seek Federal Growing Contract," National Post (Canada), June 10, 1999).

Rock announced exemptions from the Federal drug laws to Jim Wakeford of Toronto and Jean-Charles Pariseau of Vanier, Ontario, to use marijuana medically. Rock announced that he was processing 30 other applications for exemptions, and hoped to complete them quickly. Rock said the liberalization of medical marijuana is "no more [a move toward legalization] than the use of heroin or morphine in hospitals is a step toward legalizing them."

Wakeford had been granted a temporary exemption from prosecution by Judge Harry LaForme on May 10. Wakeford has AIDS. Last year Judge LaForme dismissed Wakeford's request because the Health Ministry said Wakeford had not applied to Rock for an exemption under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act. Wakeford then applied for the exemption, but his application was ignored. The Health Ministry had wanted Wakeford to divulge the source of his marijuana, a demand which the judge criticized as unfair. The government did not appeal the judge's decision (Barbara Turnbull and Tracey Tyler, "Judge Allows Medical Use Of Marijuana," Toronto Star, May 11, 1999).

The Canadian Health department, according to Rock, is negotiating with a British company that is developing an inhaler for non-smoked marijuana use. The inhaler is in the test phase, and may be years from becoming widely available.

These announcements followed revelation of a Health Department memorandum outlining the negative effects of permitting medical marijuana. Subjects included the influence on children's perceptions of the drug, conflict with international treaties on drug laws signed by Canada, and the American reaction to such a move (Jim Bronskill, "Doubts On Medical Use Of Pot," Calgary Herald, May 8, 1999).

Rock's views on medical marijuana were made to the House of Commons on June 9. "This is about showing compassion to people, often dying, suffering from grave debilitating illness."

A March survey of Canadians by Decima Research reported that 78% endorse their federal government's plan to consider the use of marijuana as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Amanda Stewart, director of the Cannabis Re-Legalization Society of Alberta, says, "More than anything it says (the idea) is more popular than any of the political parties. They're lucky to get 40% support. I think with everybody pushing for it, it's inevitable" (Tom Arnold, "Canadians Favour The Use Of Medical Marijuana," National Post, April 7, 1999; Marty Yaskowich, "Canadians High On Medicinal Pot: Poll," Edmonton Sun, April 7, 1999).

Honourable Allan Rock Minister's Office - Health Canada, Brooke Claxton Bldg., Tunney's Pasture , A.L. 0913A, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA, K1A 0K9, Tel: (613) 947-5000, Fax: (613) 947-4276, E-mail: <Rock.A@parl.gc.ca >, Web: <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca>

MP Bernard Bigras House of Commons, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6, Tel: (613) 992-0423, Fax: (613) 992-0878, E-mail: <Bigras.B@parl.gc.ca>.

Mayor Brian Taylor P.O. Box 1481, Grand Forks, BC, CANADA V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5166, Fax: (250) 442-5167, E-mail: <gfhc@sunshinecable.com>, Web: <http://www.sunshinecable.com/~gfhc/>.

Judge Harry LaForme 361 University Ave., Room 334, Toronto, Ontario M5G1T3 CANADA, Tel: (416) 327-5284, Fax: (416) 327-5417.

Amanda Stewart - Cannabis Re-Legalization Society, 1003 Whyte Ave., Edmonton, Alberta T6E 1Z3, CANADA.