Pubdate: Mon, 25 May 2009
Source: Community Press, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 Osprey Media
Author: Janet Richards
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Belleville - About 60 people attended a panel discussion on resolving 
marijuana prohibition at the Organic Underground in Belleville last week.

Led by Marc-Boris St. Maurice of NORML Canada (The National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the Thursday night 
panel featured four speakers: Craig Jones, executive director of the 
John Howard Society; Lynne Belle-Isle of the Canadian AIDS Society; 
Al Graham of Marijuana Awareness; and Gary Magwood, local 
co-ordinator and public relations officer for the Green Party of 
Canada. They discussed four areas relating to lifting the prohibition 
on cannabis.

Panelists expressed mixed views on whether legalization would boost 
the economy. St. Maurice pointed out that the prohibition of alcohol 
was lifted in the 1930s during the Great Depression and initially he 
believed the answer to the economic downturn would be the 
legalization of marijuana. However, through research and discussions, 
he has come to believe that might not be the case, especially if 
people were allowed to grow their own plants. He does, however, 
believe the money and resources being used on enforcement of the laws 
could be diverted elsewhere.

Jones agreed, saying reducing the scale of criminality and the rate 
of conviction would result in a cost saving.

"If the cost goes down people spending money on marijuana will have 
more money in their pockets to spend elsewhere," he added.

In discussing the health and medicinal properties of the drug, St. 
Maurice pointed out the "hypocrisy" of medical marijuana being 
restricted because recreational use is prohibited.

Cannabis is beneficial in the treatment of a number of conditions 
including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and aiding digestion. The 
seeds also contain protein and the oil contains essential fatty acids.

Belle-Isle, who was part of the committee that developed Health 
Canada's Medical Marijauna Program, said the program came about 
because of a court decision making it a constitutional right after 
people said it was their medicine of choice. She said the plant has 
been used medicinally for millennia.

Currently the stigma and lack of knowledge creates barriers even for 
those people licensed by Health Canada to use the drug.

Belle-Isle said there is even a lack of scientific knowledge as there 
is only one source of the plant available for research through Health 
Canada, although there are different varieties grown elsewhere.

"Prohibition is slowing down research," she said.

In a show of hands more than 10 people at the session indicated they 
were medicinal marijuana users. One woman who revealed she was an 
addict said cannabis provides an alternative to the methadone and 
morphine used to treat her drug habit.

Jones said it is difficult to study the health benefits as the drug 
is "psychoactive across a range of conditions." He said when this 
type of medicine is brought into the picture many people in the 
medical community "get freaked out."

Belle-Isle said there is no known toxic doses of cannabis and it is 
safe compared to even table salt, one reason she is comfortable 
advocating for the plant to be viewed as a natural health product 
rather than a pharmaceutical.

"Theoretically you would have to have 1,500 pounds in 15 minutes to 
kill yourself," Belle-Isle said. She also said HIV studies have shown 
that cannabis has very little interaction with other medications.

Graham, a Campbellford resident who has Crohn's disease, said he uses 
medicinal marijuana to help with pain, appetite, sleep, and for the 
calming affect, as stress is a big part of the disease. He said even 
for someone with a licence it can be difficult to get a doctor to 
agree to prescribe cannabis and there is still the stigma of using it.

Magwood mentioned what he called a "really interesting dichotomy" - 
Veterans Affairs Canada has begun to cover the costs of medicinal 
marijuana for some veterans and soldiers coming back from war.

As for evidence that people with existing mental health issues can 
have those exacerbated by cannabis, Jones said the same is true of alcohol.

"All drugs are harmful to some people, in some doses in some 
circumstances," Jones said, adding cannabis is one of the safest.

"If cannabis caused psychosis we would see a lot more."

He said the longer use of cannabis if put off, until late teens or 
early twenties, the less risk there is of developing problems.

St. Maurice said he thinks the government is scared to research 
cannabis because it will find positive aspects to something it has 
been against for 75 years or so.

In a discussion on social justice and marijuana use, St. Maurice said 
prohibition exercises a negative affect on society by labelling 
millions of cannabis users as criminals.

As a political scientist and democrat, Jones said he believes the 
government needs to find a way to "re-regulate" illicit drugs, saying 
the most harm they cause arises through prohibition.

"Organized crime and organized repression are the two most 
anti-democratic things," Jones said.

St. Maurice said harsher penalties around cannabis discourage small 
growers and result in more hardcore use and criminal activity.

Jones said Canadians are more fortunate than people in some other 
countries as there are millions of users but only tens of thousands 
of arrests and even fewer convictions.

In order to enact policy change St. Maurice believes conversations 
need to take place and language needs to be developed to approach and 
convince those who don't understand the issue.

Belle-Isle said when she discusses her work at social gatherings 
people show a "thirst for knowledge."

She said people need to be able to talk about the issue.

"I'm a strong believer in social norms and I don't think the model 
now is good for our children," Belle-Isle said. She said being 
introduced to alcohol at home as a teenager by having a glass of wine 
with dinner and having her first beer with her dad didn't create a 
need to go out and get drunk when she reached legal age.

Jones said the John Howard Society does not want to encourage more 
cannabis use, rather moderate and safe use. He also does not want to 
see cannabis or any other drug fall into the private sector. He said 
he favours a regulated supply of some kind.

"In my opinion the most important thing with re-regulation would be 
to take it out of the hands of criminals and out of the hands of 
police," Jones said.

Using the analogy of gay rights, Magwood encouraged people to "come 
out" about cannabis use.

"Make it part of everyday conversation, make it normal," he said.

He also advocated for people to lobby politicians at every level.

Jones said the letter that goes to the top of the pile is one to your 
MP indicating you are thinking of changing your vote.

More information about the move to resolve prohibition is available 
at .
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom