HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Giving A Graceless Okay To Medical Marijuana
Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jul 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A16
Copyright: 2003, The Globe and Mail Company
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Like a recalcitrant teenager ordered to do her homework or lose her TV 
privileges, Health Minister Anne McLellan has waited until the last 
possible moment to make medical marijuana available to Canadians, as 
directed by the courts. She and her department have dragged their feet in a 
number of ways over the past few years, trying to avoid this decision -- 
arguing that the medical benefits of marijuana are inconclusive and that 
the product delivered by a contractor didn't meet quality tests (if only 
all dealers were so conscientious). Now, they can delay no longer.

Yesterday marked the deadline set by Ontario Superior Court Justice Sidney 
Lederman in January, when he ruled that Ottawa's regulations on access to 
medical marijuana were unconstitutional. In effect, he said the government 
had placed terminal cancer patients, people with AIDS, epileptics and 
others in a Catch-22: It was legal to use marijuana for medical purposes, 
but there was no legal way to get it. "Laws which put seriously ill, 
vulnerable people in a position where they have to deal with the criminal 
underworld to obtain medicine they have been authorized to take violate the 
constitutional right to security of the person," he wrote.

Ottawa's record on this issue is not something to be proud of. It is a 
cavalcade of misinformation, lame excuses, delaying tactics and outright 
obstinacy that goes back more than six years.

In the original 1997 ruling involving epileptic marijuana user Terry 
Parker, an Ontario court ruled that federal marijuana laws violated Mr. 
Parker's constitutional rights.

Ottawa appealed the ruling, and lost. Three years ago, an appeal court gave 
the government a year to exempt medical users.

Ottawa adopted the regulations on access to medical marijuana, which set 
out the requirements a patient would have to meet to use marijuana legally. 
Then-health-minister Allan Rock contracted with a grower in Flin Flon, 
Man., to produce marijuana in an abandoned mine for clinical research and 
medical use. Since Ms. McLellan took over, however, the process has ground 
to a virtual halt. There has been no medical supply from the mine, because 
of a series of issues raised by the department, including the potency of 
the supply and the question of whether there was enough for clinical 
research and medical use.

In his January ruling, Judge Lederman gave the government six months to 
provide access to legal marijuana.

And what did the department do? It devoted most of its efforts to an appeal.

Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to suspend the ruling, 
saying Judge Lederman had postponed the date on which his decision would 
take effect "to enable something to be done, not to enable an appeal to be 
completed." Finally, at the 12th hour, Health Canada announced that about 
1,650 packets of marijuana were ready to be shipped and that the 582 
patients who are entitled to use it could have theirs within a week.

Ms. McLellan is clearly doing so under protest, however.

Even as it announced its plan, Health Canada warned that "this interim 
policy can be amended or suspended at any time," and it is still appealing 
the Lederman ruling. The minister argues that marijuana has not been shown 
to have medical benefits; but it has not been shown to have any 
life-threatening effects, either.

If patients who are terminally or chronically ill believe that it eases 
their pain, and the courts have agreed that they should be provided with 
it, why has the Health Minister done everything she can to deny them that 

It's a shame the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming into 
complying with a legal decision rendered six years ago, and that Ms. 
McLellan seems determined to dig her heels in until the bitter end.
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