Pubdate: Sat, 04 Aug 2001
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2001 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Tom Oleson


CANADA'S Minister of medical marijuana, Allan Rock, was in Manitoba this 
week wondering at what he has wrought.

As he descended into the depths of a formerly abandoned copper mine that 
has now been turned into bureaucratic marijuana grow operation, many 
Manitobans, many Canadians who use marijuana for whatever purposes, 
medicinal or otherwise, may also have been wondering at what Mr. Rock has 
wrought; and wondering how he could possibly have wrought it so wrongly.

This week, Canada became the first nation in the world to allow the legal 
use of marijuana to alleviate pain for the chronically and terminally ill. 
This should have been a useful thing, but Mr. Rock's administration -- he 
is more formally known as the federal minister of health -- has surrounded 
this innovation with regulations that have left no one happy.

Those Canadians who object to the use of marijuana under any circumstances 
- -- and they are increasingly few in number -- see this new development as 
the beginning of a slippery slope towards the moral corruption of an entire 
nation that already has not only tobacco, but alcohol, rum cake and cookies 
made from yeast freely available to it.

Canadians who claim that they need marijuana for its medical properties, 
usually to control nausea or pain, are unhappy for several reasons. The new 
regulations, these critics claim, will actually make it more difficult for 
sick people to obtain marijuana than it has been since the courts decreed 
that they were entitled to use it medicinally. Anyone who is not terminally 
ill will require two doctors to vouch for the fact that no other 
painkillers will do the job. Since codeine, morphine and heroin are all 
legally available painkillers, that may require some stretch of medical 

Doctors are not happy either. It is widely believed, particularly among 
regular users of marijuana, that the drug is less harmful than alcohol or 
tobacco and that it has medicinal value. The evidence for this is largely 
anecdotal. Mr. Rock has commissioned studies that will, he fondly hopes, 
offer some actual facts about this, but in the meantime he is asking 
doctors to prescribe medication that they really know nothing about.

Complicating this is the fact that no one, especially Mr. Rock, knows how 
good the government-grown marijuana will be. Manitoba marijuana has a 
reputation of being among the best -- read the most potent -- of any in the 
world. That's the pot that is grown in the so-called grow-ops of marijuana 
farmers acting illegally.

There appear to be a lot of them around. In Friday's Free Press, sharing a 
page with Mr. Rock and his descent into the depths of depravity -- or, 
rather, the mine shaft in Flin Flon -- was another brief news item 
detailing the bust by the RCMP of yet another grow-op in Ritchot, where 
marijuana plants with an estimated value of $250,000 were seized. From 
Elmwood to Elkhorn, it is becoming quite the cottage industry.

What quality and intensity Mr. Rock's copper mine crop will have is 
anybody's guess as the seeds come from plants seized by the police. Doctors 
do not much like medications when they can only guess at the dosage, so one 
can understand why they might not be entirely on board with Mr. Rock in 
this new initiative.

I do not have a problem with legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, but 
the way it has been done does not make a lot of sense. I don't, in fact, 
have a problem with legalizing it under the same kind of regulations as 
govern liquor and tobacco. At least that would help get the marijuana 
dealers out of the school yards and off the street corners, where, by the 
way, as nearly as I can figure out, they sell it for slightly less than the 
price it is costing Mr. Rock to grow it, at least for his first crop.

The courts and many police officers appear to agree that the cost of 
arresting and prosecuting recreational users of marijuana is long past the 
point of uselessness. Mr. Rock and his government do not appear to agree 
with them. That is perhaps not surprising, coming from a minister whose 
achievements include a $500 million gun control law that serves no purpose, 
and a constitutionally questionable anti-gang law that so far has 
accomplished nothing but the construction of a useless fortress of a 
courthouse in Fort Garry.

In the 1960s movie Easy Rider, one of the highlights was a song that said, 
if memory serves: "Don't bogart that joint, my friend, pass it over to me," 
a reference to Humphrey Bogart's screen persona of a man with a cigarette 
always dangling from his lips but seldom actually smoking it. To the 
marijuana smokers in the movie, it meant don't waste time, don't waste 
money, do it and move on.

Mr. Rock and his government, in a political sense, have been wasting time, 
resources and taxpayers' money by refusing to address the larger issue of 
the legal status of marijuana. The message to Mr. Rock from more and more 
Canadians is clear: Don't bogart that joint; propose some legislation that 
will make marijuana use a manageable problem, rather than a criminal one.
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