Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jul 2015
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Margaret Wente
Page: A11


Last year, the federal government spent $5.2-million on medical 
marijuana for Canada's veterans. This year it will spend a lot more. 
Marijuana is a popular way to relieve the symptoms of post-traumatic 
stress disorder (PTSD), and some veterans swear it saved their lives. 
Now consultation services designed to hook up vets with pot are 
spreading across the country. Marijuana for Trauma, founded by former 
Canadian Forces member Fabian Henry, has already helped hundreds of 
veterans in Atlantic Canada and is now expanding to Ontario. "I'm 
expecting thousands to be coming through the door in the coming 
years," he told the CBC.

Personally, I'm fine with veterans smoking pot. I'm fine with people 
smoking pot for whatever reason they want, including getting high. 
The properties of cannabis, while not entirely harmless, are widely 
known and clearly beneficial for many.

But is it medicine? No, it's not. And it's tremendously misleading to 
tell people that it is.

Millions of people have been led to believe that marijuana is good 
not only for stress and pain management, but for much more serious 
illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, childhood epilepsy, autism, 
Hepatitis C, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's, glaucoma, even cancer. 
Desperate families have even moved to states where marijuana is legal 
in hopes of finding life-saving treatment for their children. I have 
no doubt that marijuana can be useful for some people who are 
severely ill. But the hype has far outrun the evidence.

A comprehensive study published in the Journal of the American 
Medical Association last month found that the medical claims for pot 
are mostly based on lousy evidence, anecdote, and wishful thinking. 
"There is some evidence to support the use of marijuana for nausea 
and vomiting related to chemotherapy, specific pain syndromes, and 
spasticity from multiple sclerosis," the accompanying editorial said. 
For other conditions - including PTSD - the evidence is poor.

For a host of legal and other reasons, marijuana hasn't been 
rigorously tested on a large scale. But, the people who promote and 
sell the stuff can make any claims they want about it. To date, 
medical marijuana has been legalized in 23 states, as well as in 
Canada. Last month the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that medical 
marijuana should be available in any form, not just the smokable kind.

As medical use spreads, your friendly neighbourhood dealer is 
gradually being replaced by a doctor in a lab coat. The idea of 
cannabis as wonder drug is being vigorously promoted by the 
entrepreneurs who want to grow the industry, and see medical 
marijuana as the back door to full legalization. Here's Greg Engel, 
CEO of Tilray, one of Canada's more sophisticated medical pot 
growers: "The helping professions need to be open to alternative 
treatment options that have huge potential to radically transform the 
lives of patients suffering from a wide range of conditions ... One 
day Canada will be known for medical cannabis just like hockey, maple 
syrup, and poutine."

That claim may be a touch inflated. It's worth nothing that real 
drugs are standardized, with standard doses and a limited number of 
uniform ingredients that are subject to strict quality control. Pot 
is none of these things. Even so, plenty of doctors are happy to 
authorize it for just about anything that ails you. Lower back pain? 
Check. Anxiety or stress? Check. Across the country, medical pot 
clinics have sprung up that will connect you to a legal pot supplier 
(sometimes for a fee from the supplier) with a minimum of fuss. These 
clinics would like you to bring a referral from your doctor - but if 
you don't have one, they'll work around it.

The charade of medical marijuana is just one part of Canada's absurd 
and incoherent policy mess. Vancouver has nearly a hundred illegal 
drug dispensaries operating openly, which it has nonetheless decided 
to regulate. The police (who are under municipal jurisdiction) have 
openly said that busting the pot shops is a low priority, and the 
federal government can't make them enforce the law. Now the Supreme 
Court has authorized the sale of marijuana cookies, a move that has 
driven the federal government to fits of apoplexy. Marijuana cookies 
might need regulation too, but by whom, or how, is a bit of a poser.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of us will soon be getting our 
medical marijuana approvals - not because it's medicine, but because 
we'd rather be on the right side of the law. Marijuana shouldn't need 
to prove itself as medicine to be legal. It should be legal because 
it's relatively harmless, and a lot of people like it.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom