HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Painkiller Or Troublemaker?
Pubdate: Thu, 27 Mar 2003
Source: Northern Life (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 Northern Life
Author: Tracey Duguay


The debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana continues to divide 
opinions of those directly impacted by cannabis use.

This was quite evident at a recent roundtable discussion at the Elizabeth 
Fry Society office in Sudbury.

Part of the problem is the overall complexity of the issues surrounding the 
legalization of a product millions of Canadians use.

There appears to be an abundance of conflicting information on one hand, 
and not enough knowledge on the other.

The meeting was organized in an attempt to stimulate debate, raise 
awareness and educate those in attendance about the topic of decriminalization.

Gerry Cooper, a manager with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 
was supposed to debate the issue from the perspective of supporting 
legislative reform, but at the last minute, he wasn't able to make it.

Instead, Cooper's replacement, Barry Burkholder, made an emotional appeal 
for reforms to the regulations governing the use of marijuana for medicinal 

Burkholder, who suffers from the affects of Hepatitis C, spinal damage and 
severe arthritis, received a one-year federal exemption in 2001 to 
cultivate and smoke pot, or "medicine sticks" as he calls it, to alleviate 
the chronic pain from his various illnesses.

Burkholder, a recovering addict who's against recreational marijuana use, 
admits he has tried alcohol, prescription pills, cocaine and other measures 
to dull his physical pain, but he said his symptoms are better managed by 
cannabis than any other treatment.

"Alcohol is, for me, worse than marijuana," said Burkholder, "but it's more 
socially acceptable."

After using at least 10 different prescriptions some of which were given to 
counteract the side-effects of other medication, and getting busted for 
drug possession and trafficking, Burkholder decided to fight in court for a 
legal exemption to smoke his medicine sticks.

It wasn't an easy fight though. Burkholder said he lost his house because 
of legal costs.

"There's no reason I had to lose $30,000 and my house over a plant" that 
grows naturally in so many countries and places around the world, said 

His medical exemption has since expired and he said the federal government 
is making it harder to renew or obtain medicinal marijuana exemptions.

The red tape and paperwork continues to grow and many physicians won't take 
the time to fill out the necessary paperwork or simply refuse to do so 
because they're worried they may lose their medical license or insurance.

As well, Burkholder remains highly suspicious about "hand shaking" between 
the federal government and highly-influential pharmaceutical companies that 
stand to lose a lot of money if marijuana gets legalized or too many 
Canadians are granted medical exemptions.

He said the issue won't get resolved until the pharmaceutical companies 
discover a way to harness THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in a pill or inhaler 
form. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana.

If those companies ever devised such a method, they would gain immense 
profits from the new medication, said Burkholder.

While Burkholder's argument was moving and passionate, it wasn't 
necessarily the right argument to counterbalance the next speaker, Const. 
Robert Brunette of the Greater Sudbury Police Service.

In a straightforward and rather uninspiring manner Brunette listed the 
reasons why marijuana shouldn't be legalized.

Almost all of the reasons he listed were taken directly from Health Canada 
and Canadian Police Association websites.

In a nutshell, the argument against legalization falls into two main 
categories: health risks and the social message legalization would convey.

Brunette pointed to research indicating smoking marijuana is as dangerous 
for a person's health as smoking cigarettes because it contains more tar 
and is addictive if mixed with tobacco.

He pointed to studies indicating smoking three to five joints a day is 
equivalent to inhaling 20 cigarettes.

Brunette said he doesn't buy the argument legalizing marijuana will free up 
police resources.

Legalization would only increase demand, which would in turn increase supply.

And because the marijuana trade in Canada is heavily managed by organized 
crime, this might actually increase the workload for police.

The counter-argument to the point is the government would probably manage 
any supply and distribution network if pot was ever legalized.

Brunette said he also worried about the message being sent to children. 
Legalizing marijuana is counter-productive to a healthier lifestyle.

"Why would we want to legalize something that's even worse [than 
cigarettes]," said Brunette. "We already have one bad problem, let's not 
add another."

He also pointed to statistics about the "gateway drug" theory which 
suggests young people who try pot will eventually experiment and get hooked 
on harder drugs.

"They're 85 times more susceptible to using other drugs than those who didn't."

While both presenters gave valid arguments to justify their position, the 
debate broke down at times because the issue of medical use and 
legalization or decriminalization are two seperate issues.

The two overlap but don't belong together. For example, if the laws were 
changed to legalize marijuana, medicinal users still couldn't grow their 
own pot without an exemption.

For more information, visit: (Health Canada); 
(Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; (Canadian Foundation 
for Drug Policy); (Parliament); (Hemp 
Nation); and (John Howard Society).

Just the Facts

Exemption Categories:

There are three categories of people who can apply for cannabis medical 
exemptions. Category 1: People suffering from a terminal illness who are 
expected to die within a year. Category 2: People suffering from severe 
symptoms of a serious medical condition like multiple sclerosis; spinal 
cord injury or disease; cancer; HIV/AIDS; arthritis; and epilepsy. Category 
3: People suffering from severe symptoms of a serious medical condition 
other than those contained in Category 2, where conventional treatments 
have failed.

Terms of Reference:

Marijuana (cannabis, pot, grass, weed, reefer, ganja, or joint) is the 
flowering tops and leaves of the cannabis plant. It's usually smoked in 
pipes or in hand-rolled cigarettes. Hashish (hash) is the dried, sticky 
resin of the cannabis plant. It's sold in pieces and is crumbled and smoked 
in a pipe or in a hand-rolled cigarette with tobacco. Oil (hash, honey or 
pot oil) is an extract of cannabis or hash. It can be spread onto a 
cigarette paper, rolled with tobacco and smoked or mixed with tobacco in a 
pipe. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active ingredient in cannabis. 
Marinol, an appetite stimulant, is a synthetic form of THC used to treat 
the side effects of various medical conditions or diseases.

Policy Options:

Status quo: Leave the current laws and policies in place. De Facto 
decriminalization: Instruct Crown to stop prosecuting cases of simple 
cannabis possession. Decriminalization: Remove cannabis possession from the 
Controlled Substances and Drugs Act and place under the Contraventions Act 
as a minor ticketable offense. Controlled legalization: Legalize production 
and consumption with strict controls and high taxes like alcohol and taxes.

7 per cent of population smoke pot

In 1923, Canada was one of the first countries to make possession of 
marijuana illegal.

The listing of cannabis as a prohibited substance is a mystery since there 
was no discussion in Parliament about making it one.

No person was charged with cannabis possession in Canada until 1937.

According to a drug use survey by the John Howard Society, seven per cent 
of population in Ontario used cannabis in the last year.

The use of cannabis among Grade 7 to 12 students is higher than tobacco 
(29.8 per cent vs. 23.6 per cent).

Around $400 million is spent annually by the criminal justice system on 
cannabis-related offenses.
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