HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Our Opinion (on cannibis laws)
Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jan 2000
Source: Sudbury Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 1999 The Sudbury Star
Contact:  33 MacKenzie St., Sudbury, Ont., P3C 4Y1
Fax: (705) 674-6834
Note: parenthetical supplied by MAP editor for clarification

OUR OPINION (on cannibis laws)

Making people suffering from long-term illnesses go to court is hardly

Time to change marijuana laws

The trial of a Chelmsford man for possession and cultivation of
marijuana would indicate that it could be time to revamp the laws
governing the weed.

On Monday, Michel Lavoie was fined $2,000, put on 18 months' probation
and was ordered to complete 50 hours of community service. He also was
banned from using narcotics unless prescribed by a doctor.

Lavoie was found guilty of possession of a narcotic and cultivation of
a narcotic. He was found not guilty of possession of a narcotic for
the purpose of trafficking.

The decision stemmed from charges laid in 1995 after police found 85
marijuana plants in Lavoie's home.

Lavoie's defence against the charges rested on his use of marijuana
for medicinal reasons. Lavoie,  who has been on a disability pension
since 1988 for an injured back, says he uses the marijuana to  ease
the chronic pain.

For many sufferers of serious illnesses, smoking marijuana provides a
means to ease the pain and  side effects of such treatments as
chemotherapy, say advocates for the use of marijuana for medicinal

AIDS and cancer victims say smoking marijuana helps them cope with
nausea caused by chemical  and radiation therapies. Others believe
smoking the drug can relieve pain associated with multiple sclerosis,
as well as prevent epileptic seizures. Since 1981, the Canadian
Medical Association has argued that the simple possession of marijuana
should be decriminalized.

But, as Lavoie discovered, smoking marijuana can result in charges,
court appearances and fines for these patients - hardly a
compassionate way to allow people to recover from, or cope with, their
illnesses. Patients, through their doctors, can apply for exemptions
from the Criminal Code, but it is a long, arduous process and legally
obtaining the marijuana is nearly impossible.

Only about 20 people with serious illnesses have been granted
permission by federal Health Minister Allan Rock to use marijuana for
medicinal purposes.

Lavoie says he had floated the idea of seeking an exemption with his
doctor, but his doctor advocated trying more traditional treatments
before making such an application. Rather than opting to break the
law, Lavoie should have sought the advice of another doctor in order
to have an application submitted.

While some patient advocacy groups press for better access to
medicinal marijuana, there has been  an effort to decriminalize
marijuana because it places a disproportionate burden on the police
and the courts compared to the risk marijuana represents to society.

In 1995, 43,000 Canadians were charged with 62,000 drug offences, and
71 per cent of them  were for marijuana possession. In the past 20
years, 700,000 Canadians were arrested on  marijuana charges. Since
1995 in British Columbia, police have been advised to stop laying
marijuana charges because of court backlogs. The Canadian Police
Association has recommended making simple marijuana possession a
ticketable offence, similar to speeding.

Last year, the Ontario Superior Court judge presiding over the trial
of a London, Ont., hemp shop owner, said that while marijuana is
relatively harmless compared with alcohol and tobacco, it is
politicians who must establish public policy.

The nation's political leaders should take the cue and revamp the laws
regarding the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Such a change
has the public's support.

A 1997 Angus-Reid survey found that 51 per cent of Canadians believe
smoking marijuana should not be a criminal offence. If used only for
health-related purposes, 83 per cent of the 1,515 people who took part
in the survey said it should not be a criminal offence to smoke
marijuana. It's time Canada's political leadership moves to ease the
legal burden being borne by people who require marijuana to ease their
suffering by making the process for receiving a medical exemption less
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MAP posted-by: Allan Wilkinson