Pubdate: Tue, 15 May 2001
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: MINDELLE JACOBS -- Edmonton Sun


Canadian and American policy on the medical use of pot is about to veer off 
in opposite directions because of a U.S. court ruling yesterday.

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that marijuana 
can't be legally distributed to ill patients.

The law "reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits 
worthy of an exception," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.

In stark contrast, Canada is moving full steam ahead with plans to allow 
certain patients to grow and smoke pot. Government-licensed growers will 
also be in on the action.

The regulations, which Health Minister Allan Rock publicized last month, 
are expected to be in force by July.

So while Canadians with terminal illnesses or symptoms related to certain 
medical conditions will be allowed to light up a joint as soon as this 
summer, sufferers in the U.S. have no legal way to access the drug.

It's been a long and ultimately disappointing haul for the medical 
marijuana lobby in the U.S. The case revolved around six California 
cannabis clubs which cultivated and sold pot to patients whose doctors had 
approved it.

(Eight states, including California, have statutes that permit patients to 
use marijuana despite a federal ban on the possession or distribution of 
pot for any reason.)

Even a U.S. federal study concluded that marijuana has "potential 
therapeutic value."

But Washington challenged California's medical marijuana law anyway - and won.

The U.S. Controlled Substances Act states that pot has "no currently 
accepted medical use," Justice Thomas noted.

None of this means, of course, that seriously ill Americans who have 
discovered that marijuana makes their lives bearable (and alternative 
therapies don't) are going to quit toking.

It's just going to be harder for them to get marijuana because there's no 
legal source.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling doesn't quash state laws that allow patients 
to grow, possess and use medical marijuana.

But those who distribute pot for medical purposes can be prosecuted under 
federal law.

It was that kind of twisted logic on this side of the border that has been 
condemned by Canadian judges.

In December, for instance, an Alberta judge struck down the section of 
Canada's drug law that prohibits the cultivation of pot for medical 
purposes because it was at odds with the special ministerial exemption that 
sick patients can get to use marijuana.

"There is no legal source for cannabis," said Alberta Court of Queen's 
Bench Justice Darlene Acton. "The exemption triggers the absurdity that to 
obtain a product one has to take part in an illegal act."

The upshot is that forced into action by Canadian court rulings, Ottawa has 
acknowledged that marijuana does ease some people's pain and is 
implementing regulations to provide sufferers access to the drug.

The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, on the other hand, have shut the 
door on medical marijuana.

Several of the justices, mind you, seemed to have second thoughts about the 

One suggested that there should be an exemption in the law for medical 
necessity, especially when a patient has no other way of avoiding 
starvation or extraordinary suffering.

But, in the end, the court concluded the anti-drug sentiment behind the law 
takes precedence over compassion for the ill.

AIDS patients who are battling weight loss? Let them eat cake, I guess.

Cancer victims who find pot helps ease the debilitating effects of 
chemotherapy? Let them take legal drugs, if they can afford them.

Already, elderly Americans are crossing the border to get cheaper drugs in 

Perhaps we'll soon see a lineup of terminally ill Americans at the border, 
desperate for the soothing effects of perfectly legal - and potent - Canuck 

Now won't that infuriate Washington!

Mindelle can be reached by e-mail at  Letters to the 
editor should be sent to  ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom