Return to other materials on medicinal
marijuana (debates, news reports, research materials)
Excerpts from April 14, 1999 House of Commons
Debates on Medicinal Marijuana (to see full transcript of
the day's Debates, click here)
EDITED HANSARD NUMBER 207
Wednesday, April 14, 1999
. . .
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA FOR HEALTH AND MEDICAL PURPOSES
The House resumed from March 4 consideration of the motion and
Mrs. Sue Barnes (London West, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there is a
growing body of evidence, most of it still anecdotal, that
strongly suggests that marijuana has unique therapeutic
properties in the treatment of several life and sense threatening
For example, some people with multiple sclerosis believe that
smoking marijuana helps them to control their spasticity. In
certain instances the use of marijuana has helped to reduce
nausea and stimulate the appetite of those living with HIV and
Last year the board of directors of the Canadian AIDS Society
passed a position statement on the medicinal use of smokable
marijuana stating that people living with HIV-AIDS and their
physicians should have access to marijuana for medicinal
purposes in the treatment of these conditions.
There are indications that smoking marijuana can likewise reduce
nausea and vomiting brought on by chemotherapy, principally
among cancer patients. This is not simply a matter of comfort, as
some cancer patients have had to cease treatment because the
constant vomiting can make it impossible to continue taking the
therapeutic drugs they need. Many chemotherapy patients
complain that other anti-nausea drugs are ineffective and in some
cases produce unwelcome side effects.
Marijuana is reputed to be helpful in the treatment of glaucoma
through the reduction of intraocular pressure caused by fluid
Other medical conditions or situations for which marijuana is
reputed to have some effectiveness include an anti-convulsant
action which may have an application in the treatment of
epilepsy, and an analgesic action for pain relief. Marijuana
said to cure any of these conditions but the potential exists
with rational, medically supervised use to help alleviate pain
suffering. One recent report would term this belief based
medicine. In Canada we strive for evidence based medicine.
The therapeutics products program, the regulator in Health
Canada, has in place an expert advisory committee that since last
year has been examining a number of issues relating to the
medical uses of marijuana.
I am delighted that Canada will be among those jurisdictions to
gather evidence in a safe and controlled manner so that our
body of evidence can be evaluated along with that being done
In the U.K., GW Pharmaceuticals has been granted licences by the
British Government to cultivate cannabis plants and to store
and dispense the cannabis preparations for research. Initially it
will develop standardized extracts of cannabis plants grown
under controlled conditions. Research will also be concentrated
on the best way to give the drug to patients and on which
conditions it can safely treat.
They intend to proceed to clinical trials with a smokeless whole
plant extract while also supplying marijuana to other
investigators interested in medical research and pharmaceutical
Earlier this year the International Narcotics Control Board,
which is responsible for the implementation of United Nations
conventions, released its annual report for 1998. In the report
the board called for unbiased research into the possible medical
benefits of marijuana.
If the medical usefulness of marijuana is established, which I
believe it will be, it would remain a drug no different from any
narcotic drugs. It would still be subject to licensing and other
control measures according to international treaties, just like
morphine and opiates.
Last month the American Institute of Medicine issued its report
entitled Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base.
It declared that the medical use of marijuana may be one of the
most effective treatments available for people with serious
diseases such as AIDS and cancer.
This study, the product of more than 18 months of research,
highlights continued concerns about marijuana but says it clearly
controls some forms of pain, was not particularly addictive, and
did not appear to be a gateway to harder drugs. The report
also states that new research on the medical uses of marijuana
should try to develop a non-smoked rapid onset delivery system
to simulate the action of smoking marijuana.
To assist desperately ill patients who may not want to wait for a
safe alternative to be developed, the report suggests doctors
be allowed to launch clinical trials of marijuana, telling each
test subject the benefits and risks of smoking it, including the
negative impact of the smoke itself.
At the present moment a licit supply of medical research quality
marijuana for clinical trials in Canada is potentially available
obtainable from the American National Institute on Drug Abuse. GW
Pharmaceuticals may also be interested in performing
some clinical trials with its developed alternate delivery
systems outside its jurisdiction of Britain.
In Canada no scientific evidence that smoked marijuana has
medicinal benefit has been submitted to the therapeutic products
program. I believe very soon there will be a need for researchers
to come forward and present proposals to study the benefits
of the medicinal use of marijuana.
Under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act there is sufficient
latitude to distribute marijuana without having to now change
Under the CDSA the Minister of Health can enact regulations to
authorize the possession, import, export and production of
cannabis for medical purposes. Section 56 of the act states the
The Minister may, on such terms and conditions as the Minister
deems necessary, exempt any person or class of persons
or any controlled substance or precursor or any class thereof
from the application of all or any of the provisions of this
act or the regulations if, in the opinion of the Minister, the
exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is
otherwise in the public interest.
Under the regulations of the CDSA, the minister also has the
authority to authorize research on controlled substances.
with others, specifically those in our social policy caucus at
the time, I worked on the rework of the relevant bill in the 35th
parliament. Hansard debates recorded this.
In the summer of 1997 I commissioned the Library of Parliament to
prepare a report regarding the use of the new CDSA act
and medicinal marijuana. This report was delivered to me in
September 1997, at which time I provided it to our Minister of
Justice and our Minister of Health.
I have pushed this matter very hard inside my government and
since that time with these departments. I, with others,
that even now there will not be overnight change; but let us not
underestimate the progress made. The answer to my question to
the Minister of Health on March 3 was a significant embarkment on
a new policy direction for Canada.
There are drugs that contain THC, the active ingredient in
cannabis, which have received therapeutic drug approval by Health
Canada. These drugs went through the drug submission process,
received a notice of compliance and then were granted drug
identification numbers. The drugs can be sold legally in Canada
pursuant to a prescription by a practitioner. Since the active
ingredient in cannabis is already available for medicinal
purposes in Canada, expanding its use may seem to be an
development once we have the supportive research in hand.
At the present time in Canada there are two approved drugs that
contain the active ingredients derived from the marijuana
plants in pill form: Marinol and Cesamet. For many patients these
synthetic versions of marijuana's active ingredients are
expensive, unpalatable, and if they are trying to control nausea
to be able to take oral medications they are ineffective
Smoking marijuana meanwhile appears to provide immediate relief
of nausea and a stimulation of the appetite, allowing people
to hold down both their pills and some food. There may be better
mediums, for example inhalers, that reduce the negative side
effects associated with smoking marijuana. These are still under
Currently some people who suffer from these diseases discussed
above, for whom the legal medical options have proven
ineffective or painful, have made choices. Some have obtained
marijuana illegally in Canada and therefore risk suffering
consequences such as arrest, fines, court costs, property
forfeiture, incarceration, probation and criminal records.
Once evidence has been gathered the federal government will need
to establish quickly an approach that would provide
medical quality, licit marijuana so that people suffering from
disease do not have to take further risks with their health by
potentially impure, contaminated or chemically adulterated
marijuana as is the case currently in Canada.
The concept of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes has been
debated on and off in Canada for a number of years. I stress
today that it is not the so-called legalization of a controlled
substance that is the real issue. It is the legal access through
CDSA, which could be dealt with easily. In a recent court case in
my riding, Regina v Clay and Prentice, Ontario Court Justice
John McCart stated:
Parliament may wish to take a serious look at easing the
restrictions that apply to the use of marijuana for the medical
uses as outlined above as well as for alleviating some of the
symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, such as pain
and muscle spasm. There appears to be no merit to the wide-spread
claim that marijuana has no therapeutic value
It is a welcome step what we are doing. We need solid research
efforts to commence soon. We also need to help set up a
system so that those on trials are not open to criminal
harassment. It is a matter of compassion. It is not fair to these
who have to fight both their disease and the law at the same
I applaud members on all sides of the House who have worked on
this matter over the years. I think it is very important to
recognize them. I also think it is important to recognize the
Minister of Health who has taken this step forward at this time.
I want to also thank my constituents and those across Canada who
have brought the poignancy and the tragedy of this issue to
my attention. I am proud to be part of our government as we move
forward on this issue.
Mrs. Pauline Picard (Drummond, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to
take part in today's debate on the use of marijuana
for health purposes.
This is a health debate, a justice debate, based on the values of
fairness, mutual aid and compassion that we all share as a
Unfortunately, the motion, as amended by the Parliamentary
Secretary to the Minister of Health, no longer mentions the
legalization of marijuana, which is a matter of concern. It now
talks about the possible legal medical use of marijuana.
view, this is a step backwards since the government has asserted
many times that it was open to the idea and eager to look into
In fact, more than a year ago, my colleague from Rosemont asked
the Minister of Health to set up a parliamentary committee to
consider the issue. The minister replied that the question was
under consideration, that some people were already studying the
matter. He said, and I quote: The issue is under
consideration by my department and by the Department of Justice.
my colleague, we are reviewing all the aspects of the issue. We
hope to present our policy in the coming months.
Thirteen months after this statement, we are still waiting for
some answers and for some concrete measures by the minister or
his colleague, the Minister of Justice, who, a year ago, had
already started to review all the aspects of this important
In our view, at the present time the government is holding
hostage thousands of people who are suffering and waiting for a
of hope while risking six months in jail and a $1,000 fine in
order to buy marijuana on the black market.
Currently, this debate is about medical issues. But it is also a
matter of compassion. More often than not people with
HIV/AIDS or other diseases suffer from extreme nausea and are
unable to eat. This is a problem, since some of the drugs
prescribed to them must be taken with food.
If the patient is successful in taking his medication in spite of
the nausea and lack of appetite, he might be affected by side
effects: more nausea or even total intolerance to the drug
For some, the solution to these problems has been to smoke or
inhale marijuana. It eases nausea and stimulates the appetite.
Currently these men and women must break the law to get relief.
This is intolerable in a country boasting one of the best health
care systems in the world.
Nobody doubts the therapeutic effectiveness of THC, the main
active ingredient in marijuana. As a matter of fact, for a number
of years already physicians have been prescribing Marinol pills
containing synthetic THC. This drug is available in drugstores.
However even Marinol is not as effective as inhaled marijuana.
Many physicians are asking to be allowed to prescribe THC,
arguing they are in the best position to determine in which form
marijuana will be the best able to help their patients.
The positive effects of THC have been know for a long time, but,
strangely enough, it is only recently that medical authorities
have started to examine seriously through clinical research these
effects and potential medical applications.
Last March, the American medical institute published a report
that found, once again, that marijuana has an excellent medical
In November of 1998, the British science and technology committee
of the House of Lords took a strong stand in favour of the
legalization of marijuana for therapeutic uses. The chairman of
the committee stated We have enough evidence to be
convinced that physicians should be allowed to prescribe
marijuana to ease the suffering of the sick or the symptoms of
sclerosis, criminal code notwithstanding.
Recent research has confirmed earlier reports, including those of
the World Health Organization, which are more and more
dispelling myths about the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Since the beginning of his campaign, my colleague from Rosemont
has gathered a great deal of support, and more support
keeps coming in. The Canadian AIDS Society, the Quebec chapter of
the Canadian Hemophilia Society and the Coalition des
organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida
support motion M-381 without any reservation.
Not too long ago, the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens
Federation urged the health minister to act quickly on this
The Canadian Medical Association has been defending the
decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana since 1981
deplores the lack of any systematic scientific research on the
Support for decriminalization of marijuana for therapeutic
purposes does not come just from the medical associations or
groups; according to a survey carried out last month, close to
80% of the population are in favour of this major change.
Health Canada has had a program since 1966 whereby certain
patients may receive unauthorised drugs so that they do not
have to suffer needlessly while awaiting authorisation of a
product that could help them. Jean-Charles Parizeau and James
Wakeford, among others, have applied to obtain marijuana The
government has not, however, given any concrete response as
This is a problematic situation, because a recent Ontario Court
decision on the Wakeford case almost found the Narcotics Act
unconstitutional, since it has the effect of depriving certain
individuals of the only effective treatment to alleviate their
did not do so for just one reason: there is a way to obtain
marijuana and other drugs, such as morphine and other
drugs, under the current legislation, via the special access
This means that, if the government persists in refusing to
respond to requests, or refuses access to marijuana through the
access program, part of the Narcotics Act will become
unconstitutional, not by law but by fact.
Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Wakeford, and others in their position,
would have two choices available to them. First, to play the good
citizen, to suffer and to die in the near future, or second to
improve their condition and their quality of life by an illegal
is the impossible choice this government offers to those in
needs. It is unacceptable.
In conclusion, the government must stop holding sick people
hostage, stop waffling, stop letting the courts decide for it.
I would therefore like to propose an amendment to the amendment
of Motion M-381. If the government is sincere in its desire
to settle this important question, it will acknowledge that the
change is well-founded.
That the amendment be amended by deleting the words concerning
the possible legal and substituting the following:
to legalize the
Mr. Bernard Patry (PierrefondsDollard, Lib.): Mr. Speaker,
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Motion M-381 as
well as to the amendment put forward by the Parliamentary
Secretary to the Minister of Health.
First, I will take a few moments to give the history of Cannabis
sativa and to talk about the various reports and commissions
on this issue, and I will then explain why I strongly support the
motion and the amendment to legalize the use of marijuana for
health and medical purposes.
To better understand the issue, I did some research and I
consulted the Le Dain report, among others.
Cannabis sativa is cultivated or grows wild in most countries in
tropical or temperate zones, including Canada.
This plant, which probably came originally from Asia, has been
cultivated for a very long time. The street language has given
marijuana different names, including pot and grass in English. In
India, medium quality marijuana is called bang and high quality
marijuana is called ganga. It is called kif in Marocco, dagga in
South Africa and ganga in Jamaica.
Cannabis also produces an amber coloured resin which, in the
almost pure state, is a drug called charas in India and hashish
western and middle eastern countries.
As for the word marijuana, its etymology is not clear. Some
sources say that it is the contraction of two first names that
popular in Mexico, namely Maria and Juana. Other believe that
this word comes from the Mexican word mariguano, which
means intoxicant, or the Panamanian word managuango, which has
the same meaning.
Cannabis has many uses. Its stem provides strong textile fibres
that are used in the manufacturing of wires and cables. They can
also be used to make blankets, clothes, flags and boat sails. The
seeds contain a kind of oil similar to linseed oil that is used
the manufacturing of soap and paint. In Canada, people used to
grow cannabis to fight erosion and strong winds.
After this brief historical overview, I will know look at the
medical use of that plant.
Our first description of cannabis comes from a medical treatise
attributed to the Chinese emperor Chen-Nong, who lived
around 2700 B.C. In addition, archeological discoveries at a site
in Egypt between 3,000 and 4,000 years old have revealed its
use. Herodotus, a Greek historian, mentions in his writings that
inhaling the smoke from cannabis was a funeral purification rite
of the Scythians, a people speaking Iranian and living between
the Danube and the Don starting in the 12th century B.C.
The oldest of the Veda, the sacred Hindu books, written in
Sanskrit after 1800 B.C., indicates the properties of cannabis.
Similarly, the Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, who
originated in Northern Persia, which dates from 600 B.C.,
mentions that the cannabis resin produces drunkenness. One of the
Hindu god Siva's titles is lord of the bongs and even today,
the bong plays an important role in many Hindu religious
practices, both symbolically and therapeutically.
In Europe, interest in the use of cannabis did not really develop
socially and medicinally until 1798, or after the return of
Napoleon's expeditionary forces from Egypt.
In the 19th century, western medicine paid a lot of attention to
cannabis because of the influence of two authors: Dr.
O'Shaughnessy, an English doctor who returned from India in 1843,
and Moreau de Tours, a Frenchman who wrote
considerably on the medicinal use and the abuse of cannabis in
In Europe, cannabis only began to gather a following in 1844,
when the Club des Hachichins, whose members included Balzac,
Hugo, Baudelaire and Gautier, was founded in Paris.
In Canada, the French apothecary, Louis Hébert, who arrived with
Samuel de Champlain in 1606, was the first colonist to
cultivate marijuana in North America.
There have been many studies and commissions on the subject, the
most exhaustive being the 3,281-page, seven-volume
Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report, published in India in 1894.
It was followed by the Guardian committee report, named
after the mayor of New York, England's Baroness Wootton report,
and our own Le Dain commission report.
One argument used against legalizing marijuana for medical
purposes is that marijuana now exists in the form of a drug, THC
tetrahydrocannabinol, marketed under the name Marinol.
The problem is that THC, like most drugs, is absorbed by the
gastrointestinal tract slowly and irregularly and its speed of
absorption can be affected by the stomach's contents.
In addition, THC frequently has undesirable side effects, and
patients stop taking it.
As for marijuana, which admittedly also has harmful side effects,
its rapid absorption by the pulmonary route is a real benefit to
Despite all that medicine has done to understand the human being
and try to stave off death as long as possible, it seems that
compassion for human suffering sometimes falls short.
There is still a wide range of treatments, medical cocktails, for
the seriously ill, of course. But what good are they if ingesting
them makes people sicker.
Earlier, its benefits for those with MS, glaucoma, epilepsy or
cancer were mentioned. There is also the wasting, or loss of
muscle and fatty tissue seen in those with HIV and AIDS. In this
particular situation, inhaling marijuana not only brings speedy
and significant relief, but also helps patients' physical and
Demonstrating compassion towards the sick is also the role of
politicians and that is why I support any legislative measure to
provide controlled access to the therapeutic and medical use of
The Deputy Speaker: Before continuing, I want to point out that
debate will now be on the amendment to the amendment
moved by the hon. member for Drummond.
Ms. Elinor Caplan: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It
seems to me that the subamendment changes the intent of the
motion and the amendment and I question whether it is in order.
The Deputy Speaker: In the opinion of the Chair, the subamendment
does fall within the amendment that was proposed. It
simply clarifies the amendment. If the clarification is such that
the House finds it objectionable, the House can reject it when
voting on the subamendment. However, I think the subamendment
appears to be in order and I have accordingly put it to the
Mr. Grant Hill (Macleod, Ref.): Mr. Speaker, I want to
congratulate the hon. member for Rosemont for this motion on the
medical use of marijuana. This debate needs to be held.
In my view, cannabis for palliation has a place. There are
instances of terminal cancer, AIDS, chemotherapy wasting,
and glaucoma where it looks like cannabis has a positive effect.
I especially believe that it has a place when there is no other
product that works.
We are debating the medical use of marijuana only. I think that
good medical practice would say yes to the medical use of
marijuana if there were no other choice. As an example, heroin,
which is considered to be an illicit drug in Canada, is available
to medical practitioners for this very purpose and if heroin,
which is a potent illicit drug, is available, the argument would
why not the medical use of cannabis.
There are some difficulties with the medical use of marijuana.
This is not a straightforward issue. Smoked marijuana is impure.
In fact it is a chemical cocktail.
Many of the medications we use for palliation are in fact a
cocktail, but we have some choice over their constituents. The
impurity of THC and the other constituents in marijuana is a
problem. THC or cannibinoids are but one component of smoked
pot, which is the common expression for this medication.
There are some new studies that state that cannabis has some
positive medical effects. The recent one which I would like to
quote from today is from the Institute of Medicine in the U.S.
This was reported recently in The Washington Post. The
Institute of Medicine is an independent advisory body and the
study did take some time. It was quite eagerly looked upon for
some help in this debate, a debate that is complex.
The basic conclusions of this study were that marijuana smoke can
have an important effect on certain disease states. The study
states While we see a future in the development of
cannibinoid drugs, we see little future in smoked marijuana as a
There we have the division. The cannibinoids in marijuana have a
fairly positive future. This study suggested that smoked
marijuana might well not be the way to go.
As the study went on, there were very specific issues raised.
Pain relief is probably the biggest commercial marketplace for
cannibinoids. It went on to say that for nausea and vomiting
caused by chemotherapy, cannibinoids are mildly effective but
other preparations may be just as good. For the other things,
glaucoma, migraines, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease and
whatnot, not nearly as impressive results were found.
If I can summarize this report, I would say that cannibinoids or
THC in marijuana do have some positive benefits, especially in
the treatment of pain. That would suggest to me for pain relief
in a palliative sense for serious illnesses such as cancer and
possibly AIDS this may well be a useful product.
One of the other big difficulties with the medical use of
marijuana is the likelihood that recreational use will become
difficult to control. That is not the case with other products,
like heroin, which are chemically produced.
Marijuana of course can be grown and is fairly easily grown. It
can be grown in a house under certain circumstances. It can
certainly be grown in the summer in Canada. That makes the
control of recreational use more difficult. There are some who
that recreational use should be allowed unfettered. That is not
something I agree with at all.
I would like to suggest some potential solutions for the problems
we have. On the one hand, it looks like cannibinoids may well
be useful for palliation. On the other hand, there are some
difficulties with control of the recreational use.
The potential solutions would be, number one, to isolate these
cannibinoids for specific use. There is some new research being
done along those lines.
We could also find alternate routes of administration. As my hon.
colleague across the way mentioned, the oral route is not the
best route for this particular preparation. Gastric absorption is
not perfect and patients have told me that. There are three other
There is a new waxy capsule that has been developed. This is from
the University of Mississippi in the United States. Initial
research there looks very positive. It is absorbed quite rapidly.
It is not the ideal way to administer for many people, but for
individuals in these tough circumstances I think that might be a
An oral or nasal spray of the very specific THC might also be
possible. It has been suggested and in fact has been used in
A patch which is another mechanism of administration has also
been looked at.
This would not be a controversy at all if it were not for the
recreational use of marijuana. This would have been done long ago
under an enlightened medical system.
There are a host of individuals who use the medical use of
marijuana as a gateway toward a larger use. As a practitioner, I
the opportunity to treat patients for drug problems. I do not go
down the road of softening marijuana use for recreational
purposes for one second. The reasons are legion but I do not have
too much time so I will be narrow in this focus.
Some 5% to 15% of the youth using cannabis become habituated. I
did not use the word addicted because that is not the
appropriate word for marijuana. Habituated is a more appropriate
word. There are those who say not to bother with those
small numbers because many, many kids who use this preparation go
on to become perfectly healthy. I grant that as absolutely
I would ask those individuals to attend in any city in the
country a drug rehab facility. Go to a NarAnon meeting and listen
youth and sometimes the adults who talk about the problems they
have had with marijuana misuse. Ask about the school
attendance from youth who have been habituated to marijuana. Ask
about the personality changes these youth undergo. Ask
about the problems they have undergone with the legal system, not
just because of their marijuana use but because of fencing
and the other things that go along with the drug subculture.
The medical use of the specific components of marijuana have some
merit. I am quite cautious about going down the road of
recreational use and in fact am vigorously opposed in that
regard. Purifying and looking at THC in its purest form is ideal.
Smoked marijuana for those who have absolutely no other choice or
those at the end of life could be approached.
This debate is one that is timely.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I
congratulate the member for Rosemont for bringing forward
private member's Motion No. M-381, to allow the legal medical use
This motion is a very good demonstration of what we can do as
parliamentarians to examine an issue. In some ways this
institution of the House of Commons is sort of far behind public
opinion, even where the medical community is. Certainly
people who are suffering from pain and diseases like AIDS or
cancer are very eager to see this motion pass.
I congratulate the member for his diligence in bringing this
issue to the House and seeking out support from other members. I
think that support is now quite strong. Many of my NDP colleagues
are very supportive of this motion. Our health critic, the
member for Winnipeg North Centre, spoke on March 4 and outlined
very well the medical evidence that already exists to
demonstrate that this motion should be approved in full rather
than with the amendment put forward by the government.
There is lots of evidence before us to show that the medical
profession has made it quite clear there are very good grounds
information to show the medical use of marijuana is actually
something beneficial. It helps people who are suffering from HIV,
AIDS, cancer, MS and other ailments. We have received
communications from groups such as the Canadian AIDS Society. It
has very strongly outlined and advocated its support for this
There is no question there have been numerous studies. Also, very
brave individuals in our society have taken on the justice
system, sometimes almost alone, to challenge the archaic laws
when it comes to the medical use of marijuana. People like Jim
Wakeford, Terry Parker and others with a lot of expense and
anxiety have had to take on the system to get this issue before
the courts and to challenge the sanity and the rationale of why
this law still exists.
Numerous polls show us that even the Canadian public believes
very strongly that the medical use of marijuana is something
that should be sanctioned and supported. It creates a very
strange situation that we have public opinion, and we even have
judges making court rulings, we have health professionals, and
the medical profession all telling us that this is the right
do. The lack of political will and commitment to follow through
is now the greatest obstacle we face.
I along with other members were very happy to see the Minister of
Health make his announcement on March 3 that Health
Canada will study and develop a plan around clinical trials for
the medical use of marijuana. I do think we have to question
whether or not this is simply a stalling tactic that is going to
cause people more harm and more suffering as they wait for more
studies to be done.
We have to be very clear that the Minister of Health has the
discretion and the power today. He had it last year and the year
before that but he has it today to approve applications on
compassionate grounds for the medical use of marijuana. There are
applications before him.
The Vancouver Compassion Club is an organization in my riding
with a membership of about 700 individuals. Marijuana is
actually dispensed for medical purposes. They have a lawyer who
is signing people up to apply for an application for
exemption. They are even prepared to go to a legal challenge
based on their constitutional rights to have this medical
take place while the trials are taking place.
I encourage members of the House, particularly government
members, to continue to put pressure on the health minister. It
useful and good thing to have these clinical trials go ahead as
there are things that we need to learn. However, we have enough
information now to ask the minister to go ahead with the
exemption so that people can get relief, help and support now
having to become criminals if they seek help through places like
the Vancouver Compassion Club or other organizations.
Why are we afraid of taking immediate action on this? Why is the
government afraid of doing that? It is partly wound up in the
morals we have. We heard from the health critic of the Reform
Party. It is all wound up with people's concerns about
recreational use. This is part of a debate which I think is very
necessary on Canada's drug laws. We need to have progressive
reform in our drug laws.
I have been working on an issue that affects my riding very much.
It deals with injection drug users, heroin addicts who are
literally dying on the streets. I have been advocating for heroin
prescription trials as a way of medicalizing support and help to
actually prevent people from dying, to get support for those
people who now are completely outside of the system.
The biggest barrier is not from the medical community, nor even
from the public. It is from elected representatives, particularly
the government representatives who are afraid to take this issue
on. It deals with the taboos around a drug policy.
I say very strongly that this is a place to begin in terms of
drug reform policy. There is strong public support but we do have
We can make a very rational, articulate and well reasoned case
why the motion should be approved. The Minister of Health
should be approving applications today for exemptions so that
Canadians do not suffer any longer, so that they can get the
they need without having to go to all kinds of difficult means
and being made to feel like they are being marginalized and
stigmatized by having to get medical marijuana illegally. That is
a shame. It is something that does not need to exist if we had
political will and the leadership.
I thank members of the House who support the motion. We must
continue this work. There is a lot at stake here. This is an
important debate. We must put pressure on the health minister to
provide those exemptions.
We must make it very clear that we do not want to wait another
two or three years for the trials to be conducted. We do not
want to wait for another study or another plan. We want help and
relief to be provided now while those trials are going on.
That is what we must urge the government to do in the interest of
compassion and of providing people with real help and
Mrs. Christiane Gagnon (Québec, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased
to speak today on an issue that is important for the
well-being of some sick people.
Legalizing the use of marijuana for health purposes is an urgent
necessity for many sick persons, and the government's
reluctance to set up an concrete plan of action is unacceptable
to the many sick people who must act like criminals, even though
they are using a drug prescribed by a doctor.
This debate is a first in the history of the House of Commons. At
last, thanks to the motion of my colleague, the hon. member
for Rosemont, we have a unique opportunity, as representatives of
our fellow citizens, to discuss the legalization of marijuana
for medical purposes.
But the issue is not a new one. In this regard, we lag far behind
our civil society. We want to catch up by making sure that
Motion M-381 gets the support of a majority of members from all
sides, when we vote on it here, in this House.
Let me explain why this is such an important issue. First, the
Ontario court has already found part of the Narcotic Control Act
to be unconstitutional, including the provisions on the use of
marijuana for health purposes.
As legislators, we have a duty to make a decision before the
current legal vacuum forces judges to make that decision for us.
Judges are not elected and should not be forced to make the final
decision in a debate involving all of society because we
hesitate to play our role as legislators.
This is also a matter of compassion towards those who suffer from
nausea, vomiting and other symptoms that often accompany
chronic illnesses or are side effects of their treatments.
Thousands of patients affected by cancer, AIDS, multiple
epilepsy and other illnesses reported considerable relief from
The effects are so positive that many patients and their families
are ready to risk jail sentences to buy their drug on the black
It is always shocking, especially for parents, to see relatives
suffering when there is no efficient drug to alleviate pain. For
those who suffer, it is unacceptable that someone having to live
with a chronic disease should risk six months in jail and a
$1,000 fine for using a drug recommended by a doctor. In several
cases, marijuana is the only drug that can effectively reduce
some symptoms associated with an illness.
Above all, it is unacceptable to make a criminal out of a person
who uses for medical purposes a product whose therapeutic
virtues are well established.
In fact, practitioners have been prescribing Marinol pills for
years. This drug is known to contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or
THCthat is a lot simpler to pronouncewhich is the
main active ingredient of marijuana. Indeed, no one will deny the
therapeutic value of THC, which is prescribed to relieve
terminally ill patients from nausea and to stimulate their
However, this synthetic pill is not a valid alternative to
inhaled THC. According to the famous American medical magazine,
New England Journal of Medicine of January 30, 1997, inhalation
is the only way to increase rapidly the level of THC in blood.
Hence, inhalation of THC considerably improves the therapeutic
efficiency of this substance.
Besides, numerous patients who would use marijuana for
therapeutic purposes already have to swallow every day an
astronomical number of pills. This can cause vomiting and
patients are therefore forced to swallow again the medication
have rejected. This is totally inhuman. It is obvious that in
such cases, it would be better to administer THC by the pulmonary
route rather than by the digestive route.
I will now answer a question that many people ask about
therapeutic inhalation of marijuana. Are the side effects of this
The inhalation of marijuana has well-known side effects. One only
has to think about the damages caused to the lungs by
inhalation of noxious smoke or about certain psychotic effects.
We must understand that many medications, and not only
marijuana, have side effects.
Think, for example, of the undesirable and serious side effects
of chemotherapy or AZT treatments. Let us consider, as well,
the precautions that must be taken by those who use, for
therapeutic purposes, by-products of morphine and cocaine. Even
the case of a simple Sudafed tablet, it is recommended not to
drive a motor vehicle because of side effects. Indeed, this
restriction would probably also apply to those who take marijuana
for therapeutic purposes.
We must bear in mind, however, that the side effects of marijuana
are considered less harmful than those of at least two
products that are widely used. As a matter of fact, a report
produced by a group of French and foreign experts, and entitled
Problèmes posés par la dangerosité des drogues, came to the
conclusion that the use of marijuana is less hazardous than the
use of alcohol or tobacco. These conclusions are consistent with
the results of a similar study conducted on behalf of the UN
World Health Organization.
The side effects of a drug cannot be dissociated from its
For many patients the various benefits of marijuana far outweigh
the side effects known to be less serious than those of alcohol
or nicotine. It is in this context that the British Medical
Association publicly asked the police and the courts to tolerate
therapeutic use of marijuana.
In its report, the association says that some patients are
condemned to using an illegal drug to relieve symptoms no
medication can control and that there is compelling evidence that
marijuana can help in some circumstances.
The British government responded to this request by allowing a
pharmaceutical company to grow and supply cannabis for
medical research, which led the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of
Great Britain to say she is confident prescriptions will be
allowed within the next three years.
In the U.S., 28 states already have laws on the therapeutic use
of marijuana. During the 1998 elections, six other states held a
referendum on the issue. In all six cases, measures favouring the
therapeutic use of marijuana got the majority of the popular
In Canada and Quebec, physicians are mobilizing to make the
medical benefits of marijuana better known. They point out that
marijuana relieves nausea and stimulates the appetite, which can
help save the life of patients suffering from anemia because of
chemotherapy or AIDS treatments.
A cross-Canada poll has shown wide support, 83%, for the
legalization of marijuana for therapeutic uses. The Globe and
commissioned that Angus Reid poll on November 4, 1997.
On the political front, the Progressive Conservative Party, the
NDP and the Bloc are in favour of legalization of marijuana for
therapeutic uses, and individual members of the Liberal Party and
the Reform Party are also in favour.
As far as the federal government is concerned, the health and
justice ministers stated in the House in March 1998 that this
important issue was under consideration in their departments.
There is no place here for petty politics, for this question is
too important for thousands of patients.
Nine months have gone by, and the federal government has still
not come up with a policy, and the ministers have not yet given
a date for one. This is cause for concern, because people are
suffering. I urge all legislators to support this motion so that
people affected by diseases like AIDS or multiple sclerosis who
do not have any suitable drug available to them can at last be
relieved of their pain.
I ask for a unanimous vote on this motion.
Ms. Diane St-Jacques (Shefford, PC): Mr. Speaker, first of all, I
want to commend the hon. member for Rosemont for
putting this private members' motion before the House and for the
key role he has played these last few weeks in urging the
federal government to take concrete measures to support the use
of marijuana for therapeutic and medical purposes.
I also want to congratulate all those who, in their own way, have
constantly put pressure on the elected representatives so that
this debate could be held and concrete measures could be
implemented to help the people who need to use marijuana for
medical purposes, who need to find some relief from pain and
suffering or to deal with the symptoms of chronic or terminal
Of course, I am glad to join all those who have worked together
to urge the federal government to have the political courage
and the leadership to recognize the medicinal value of marijuana
by immediately implementing measures to legalize the use of
marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
As my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest said, this issue
must be addressed from a compassionate point of view. We
must keep an open mind and show compassion throughout this
We have to keep in mind that for the sick who need marijuana for
therapeutic purposes, every day they suffer is one day too
many. Do not think I am talking in abstractions. I know what I am
talking about, because my mother died of cancer after many
long years of suffering. I will never forget how useless I felt
as I watched her suffer and I wish I had known the therapeutic
effects of marijuana at the time.
However, it was unfortunately only a few years later that I
learned about its therapeutic use, and I support the actions of
fighting for its medical use.
I will tell you that this decision was very easy when I learned
that the leaders of this campaign were those who were themselves
sick and had to obtain marijuana illegally at the risk of being
I think it is totally unacceptable that someone who is
chronically ill or in the final stages of AIDS is being penalized
treatment that many doctors would recommend if they could.
Experiments have shownand a significant number of health
care professionals have recognized it publiclythat the use
cannabis has beneficial effects in the case of at least four
serious diseases. First, by lowering eye pressure, it controls
Second, it reduces spasms in victims of MS. Third, it reduces
nausea and suffering of those with cancer. Finally, it helps
with AIDS fight depression and regain the appetite they need to
It is also felt that marijuana can help those suffering from
certain diseases such as migraines and emphysema.
The other factor working considerably in favour of the use of
marijuana for medical purposes is that it produces no side
as too often occur with other treatments and which can be of such
intensity as to discourage those who are ill from taking their
medication, despite their suffering.
The Deputy Speaker: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but
the time provided for the consideration of Private
Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped to the
bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.
Mr. Bernard Bigras: Mr. Speaker, I would ask the unanimous
consent of the House in order for the Hon. member for
Shefford to finish her speech.
The Deputy Speaker: Does the hon. member have the unanimous
consent of the House to continue?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Deputy Speaker: The hon. member for Shefford will have six
minutes to complete her speech the next time the motion is
debated in the House.
[End of excerpt relating to medicinal marijuana]
Return to Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy home page
Return to other materials on medicinal
marijuana (debates, news reports, research materials)