Medical Marijuana in Canada: Resources and Notes

After injuring his eyes Homer Simpson is prescribed medicinal marijuana for the pain. Burritos and Phish concerts ensue.

The recent legislation in Colorado and Washington, which permits adults to carry and use small amounts of marijuana, has brought the American “War on Drugs” to a confusing place. In Mexico, where drug-linked violence constantly disrupts life for Mexicans, President Felipe Calderon states that this allowance by the American government restricts their “moral authority” to demand that other countries (such as Mexico) crack down on drug cartels. It is time to begin, or continue, or (at the very least) broach, an important series of sober (hardy har har) and well-informed conversations on the legal, moral, economic, and medical issues surrounding marijuana use.

I have only known one person with a prescription for medical marijuana. “Diane” (not her real name) was an adult student that I tutored in basic mathematics. Having suffered from chronic pain for many years, Diane was issued an identification card from Health Canada that would allow her to be prescribed and smoke medical cannabis. In addition to her pain Diane had also suffered from low appetite, and the medical cannabis was a solution to this issue as well. While some patients might also look forward to the “high” that medical marijuana provides, Diane had no interest in this. Diane struggled with what she felt was a moral conundrum; in fact, she had tried a variety of alternative medications and exercises before reconciling herself to the use of marijuana, even if it meant the relief of her debilitating pain. After coming close to working for the Canadian Bureau of Medical Cannabis (BMC), also known as the Marihuana Medical Access Program (MMAP), I decided to check out some resources to better understand the medical marijuana industry in Canada. The links below are hopefully only your introduction to this formidable subject.

Key Federal Legislation and Publications

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is the legislation under which the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations were created. A great number of drugs fall under this Act, and cannabis and its derivatives are included Schedule II of the Act. The Act describes what constitutes a drug-related offense, how such an offense is punished, and how the Justice Department may enforce these laws. In section 55 the Act describes the exemptions applicable to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which includes the ability of the  Governor in Council to make allowances where certain practices are concerned, including medical applications.

Marihuana Medical Access Regulations
These regulations give an authorized individual the ability to buy marihuana (from a licenced seller) to alleviate symptoms of a medical condition. After a medical practitioner authorizes the patient to use medical marihuana (just as a doctor would provide any patient with any prescription for a pharmaceutical), an identity card is issued that allows the bearer to purchase and use the cannabis. The Regulations also provide legal framework within which producers and vendors of medical marihuana must comply.

Medical Use of Marihuana, Health Canada
This is the hub of information on the use of medical marihuana and the application process to grow, sell, or use the drug. A process that Health Canada admits is “confusing,” application for a medical marihuana access card may take 8 to 10 weeks. In addition to providing general information about medical marihuana, particularly in light of it’s status as an illegal drug, Health Canada provides information and resources for physicians, who may be asked to prescribe marihuana, and members of law enforcement, who may be unclear about what constitutes lawful use of marihuana. The company that provides Health Canada with its medical marihuana crop, Prairie Plant Systems Inc., is also briefly profiled.

Medical Use of marijuana: History and Current Status, Harold Kalant, 2001
On of Canada’s top pharmacologists and toxicologists, Dr. Harold Kalant provides an exhaustive analysis of the history of cannabis use as well as the opportunities for therapeutic use of this controversial drug. Kalant details the chemical properties of marijuana, the various methods of administering the drug, and the pharmacological effects on various bodily systems associated with its use. Of particular interest is Kalant’s criticism of past clinical trials of cannabis as medicine. Kalant advises that “the numbers of available subjects may be too small to permit useful trials at single locations, so that multicentre studies may be required”. Kalant closes his paper with international perspectives on the use of marijuana and concludes that further study is needed before cannaboids can be strongly recommended for therapeutic use.

Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public PolicySummaryVol. IVol. IIVol. IIIAppendices, 2002
A report created by the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, the history, national and international legal precedents, public perceptions, and therapeutic value of cannabis are established.  This extremely lengthy tome of a report was written in order to more fully understand the established Canadian policies regarding cannabis, whether these policies were effective, and, if not, what policies would be more beneficial for the health and social welfare of the Canadian people. Many conclusions were brought forward, including the finding that “early drug legislation was largely based largely on a moral panic, racist sentiment and a notorious absence of debate”. Recommendations going forward included declassifying cannabis as an illegal drug, while implementing “stringent monitoring and evaluation”. The Committee also called for a revamping of Canada’s national drug policy and sharing its findings with the international community.

Drugs and Drug Policy in Canada: A Brief Review and Commentary, Diane Riley, 2008
Written seven years after Kalant’s article, Diane Riley provides a highly critical overview of the global “War on Drugs” and Canada’s “pharmacological McCarthyism”. Riley analyzes the hypocrisy of the Canadian government’s acknowledging that many of its citizens have an illness of dependence, yet these same people are persecuted and prosecuted as criminals. While Riley comments upon the therapeutic use of marijuana only in a tertiary manner, her broader consideration of the drug policies and prohibitions in Canada and internationally are well worth a read.

Medical Marijuana Access Card

A medical marijuana access card permits the bearer to use or carry a certain amount of marijuana. It may also grant them the right to grow a certain number of marijuana plants.

Special Reports (also published by the Government of Canada)

National Drug Policy: The Netherlands, by Benjamin Dolin

National Drug Policy: United States of America, Benjamin Dolin

Combating Canada’s Marijuana Grow Industry Stronger Penalties and other Deterrents, Len Garis

A Public Health Perspective on Cannabis and Other Illegal Drugs, Henry Haddad

Cannabis Effects and Dependency Concerns in Long-term Frequent Users: A Missing Piece of the Public Health Puzzle, Andrew D. Hathaway

Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis, Parliament of Canada

Historical and Cultural Uses of Cannabis and the Canadian “Marijuana Clash,” Leah Spicer

Advocacy Groups

Marc-Boris St-Maurice is a medical marijuana advocate and the founder of the Marijuana Party of Canada.

Marc-Boris St-Maurice is a medical marijuana advocate and the founder of the Marijuana Party of Canada.

Canadian Association for Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

Canadian Medicinal Marijuana

Cannabis Culture – Medical Marijuana Canada

Cannabis Health Journal Medical Cannabis Patients Advocate

Selected Media

Medical marijuana grown by Jeff Lundstrom. Lundstrom is the organizer of The Harvest Cup, a competition to find the best medical marijuana in Saskatchewan.

Medical marijuana grown by Jeff Lundstrom. Lundstrom is the organizer of The Harvest Cup, a competition to find the best medical marijuana in Saskatchewan.

Injured worker wins marijuana court case, CBC News staff
After twice injuring his back, a Regina man won the right to have a new tribunal consider his request for the Worker’s Compensation Board pay for his medical marijuana. While a previous tribunal considered his case, they declared that there was not enough evidence that marijuana was medicinally effective. A judge overturned their decision, stating that “the tribunal held that because the medical department and/or medical consultant did not support medical marijuana, neither did it”.

Medical marijuana group seeks sympathetic doctors, CBC News staff
A Prince Edward Island-based support group for the use of medical marijuana have alerted the media to the dearth of doctors willing to write a prescription for medical marijuana. The support group announced its intention to hold forums to facilitate patient-doctor dialogue on the use of medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana growers uninspected by Health Canada, CBC News staff
While individuals can apply through Health Canada to grow or use medical marijuana, there is a lack of checks and balances after the application process.  An Access to Information request for a list of inspections of legal marijuana producers’ operations turned up nothing, because regular inspections do not occur. The RCMP has been particularly critical of Health Canada’s administration of the medical marijuana programme. Not only are many crops going uninspected, but many of the growers have had previous trafficking records and should therefore be ineligible to grow marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

White Coat, Black Art, Dr. Brian Goldman, CBC Radio 1
In a blog post entitled “MDs who take medical marijuana,” Goldman questions whether doctors using medical marijuana should be permitted to continue practicing medicine. Goldman brings to the forefront the Medical Director of the Colorado Physician Health Program’s belief that allowing doctors using medical marijuana would provide undue risk to their patients. Goldman agrees that doctors are in such a delicate position, which requires such a high level of competency, that physicians should not be permitted to see patients if they are under the influence.

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