Pubdate: Mon, 14 Jan 2008
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2008 Southam Inc.
Author: Colby Cosh,  National Post
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Once again a Canadian court has spoken up and said it's time for the 
federal government to stop choking off supplies of medical marijuana 
to the more than 2,000 users it licenses. And once again, the 
government is expected to seek every conceivable obstacle, use every 
possible loophole and exhaust every avenue of appeal that might help 
delay the adoption of a logical, humane medical marijuana policy.

Until last week, licensed users had three options for obtaining the 
drug lawfully: buy the much-criticized weed from the federally 
contracted factory in Flin Flon, Man., master the art of cultivating 
it themselves or designate a personal grower. But no grower was 
allowed to provide pot to more than one patient. This rule was 
intentionally designed to prevent the creation of California-style 
"compassion clubs" or backyard patient collectives.

In other words, the law recognized the usefulness of medical 
marijuana as a natural means of reducing pain and nausea in sufferers 
of cancer, multiple sclerosis or AIDS -- but if those sufferers were 
not content to buy from the government, they were denied the most 
cost-effective method of obtaining it themselves. Compassion clubs 
offer benefit beyond the mere operation of economies of scale: they 
allow patients to regulate the content and quality of their own 
medication, and they naturally evolve other social features, allowing 
the severely ill to make new friends, share health advice, and 
comfort one another. After years of experience in other countries, 
members have access to a global body of expertise in meeting the 
myriad of logistics and security problems involved in growing, 
storing, travelling with and consuming medical marijuana.

It is no wonder that judges continue to horsewhip elected officials 
and civil servants for standing in the way of these organizations, 
many of which have already been operating on Canadian soil but 
outside its law. In a decision issued last Thursday, federal court 
deputy judge Barry Strayer ruled that Health Canada's insistence on a 
one-to-one ratio between growers and patients is unreasonable. "In my 
view," Strayer wrote, "it is not tenable for the government, 
consistently with the right established in other courts for qualified 
medical users to have reasonable access to marijuana, to force them 
either to buy from the government contractor, grow their own or be 
limited to the unnecessarily restrictive system of designated producers."

Who could disagree without disclosing contempt for the most 
fundamental human liberties? Conventional reasons for opposing the 
legalization of marijuana vary in nuance. Some are plainly 
ridiculous: if pot were really a "gateway drug," then there must be 
an awful lot of closet junkies amongst the 10 million-plus Canadians 
who have tried it at least once. Some stem from a misunderstanding of 
scientific evidence: note, for instance, how frantically armchair 
drug warriors go spelunking in the medical literature for links 
between marijuana and psychosis, abusing both common sense and the 
idea of statistical correlation. (The rate of tobacco use among 
schizophrenics is in the neighbourhood of 70% to 90%. Does this mean 
that cigarettes cause mental illness? On the contrary -- the best 
educated guess is that schizophrenics who smoke are, subconsciously 
or otherwise, self-medicating.) And some have at least a partial 
grounding in reality: there are certainly good reasons to inhibit the 
usage and prestige of marijuana among adolescents, who face enough 
challenges in maintaining their motivation and attention in school 
without getting high.

What the good and bad arguments against marijuana have in common is 
that they have little or nothing to do with the situation of the 
seriously or terminally ill. A cancer patient who can't hold down a 
meal because of chemotherapy, and who finds that marijuana restores 
appetite better than any prescription drug, will be justly infuriated 
upon hearing that his wellbeing must be sacrificed in order to "send 
the right message" to 12-year-olds. And knowing that he will be 
eligible to consume morphine by the truckload if he gets sicker, he 
can only regard talk of "gateway drugs" as a sadistic irony.

Medical marijuana users are perfectly happy -- indeed, desperately 
eager -- to have legal compassion clubs and cultivation cooperatives 
regulated up the proverbial wazoo by Health Canada. They will go 
along with almost any reasonable scheme the government is able to 
devise to protect the interests of public order. But one suspects 
that the real problem is an optical one. Both Liberal and 
Conservative governments have succeeded in whipping up wrath against 
marijuana "grow-ops," blaming them for violence and electricity 
thefts as if those things were not already crimes unto themselves.

But a compassion club is nothing but a grow-op that complies with the 
law, pays its bills, lives openly in the community and causes no harm 
to anybody. And once you concede that such a thing can exist, and 
others demonstrate it, the whole semantic game of drug prohibition 
becomes harder for the government to play.
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