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Pubdate: Wed, 02 Aug 2000
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2000 Southam Inc.
Contact: letters@nationalpost.com
Address: 300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3R5
Fax: (416) 442-2209


Like four out of five Canadians, we support the use of marijuana for medical purposes. And
so we are happy with the decision issued on Monday by the Ontario Court of Appeal in the
case of R. v. Parker. In that case, the court found that Terrance Parker, an epilepsy
sufferer who uses marijuana to prevent seizures, has a constitutional right to smoke and grow
pot. The court also declared the prohibition on possession of marijuana contained in the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to be flawed. If Parliament does not amend
the law within a year in order to provide greater access for medicinal marijuana users, the
prohibition against marijuana possession will be "of no force and effect" in Ontario.

But while we agree with the result of the judgment, we are disturbed by the fact that judges,
not legislators, have taken the lead in modernizing Canada's marijuana law. Canada's Health
Department has dragged its feet pitifully over the years. When the CDSA came into being in
1996, Section 56 provided that otherwise proscribed drug use may be exempted from the
provisions of the CDSA if the drugs in question serve a "medical or scientific purpose." But
until 1998, the Health Ministry had never considered a single applicant under Section 56. In
fact, as frustrated AIDS sufferers learned, the department did not even have an application
procedure for would-be exemptees. Allan Rock's ministry created a set of such procedures
only when its hand was forced as a result of a suit brought by Toronto AIDS patient James

In Monday's Parker decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the current Section 56
procedures, though better than nothing, are inadequate. Marijuana is a proven and effective
medicine for several serious, life-threatening conditions. Tens of thousands of Canadians can
benefit from medical marijuana, yet only about 60 have received permission under Section 56
in the last year. As the court noted, "it reposes in the [Health] Minister an absolute discretion
based on the Minister's opinion whether an exception is 'necessary for a medical ... purpose,'
a phrase that is not defined in the Act," and "even if the Minister were of the opinion that the
applicant had met the medical necessity requirement, the legislation does not require the
Minister to give an exemption. The section only states that the Minister 'may' give an
exemption." For these and other reasons, the judges concluded that Section 56 of the CDSA,
in its present form, "is not consistent with the principles of fundamental justice."

And so now, the ball is in the federal government's court. The CDSA must be reformed to
give Canadians the access to medical marijuana they want and need. The solution is to put
marijuana dispensation in the control of the same people we rely upon to dispense a whole
range of other controlled medicines: doctors. If, as most Canadians agree, marijuana has use
as a medicine, then let us treat it as one.

MAP posted-by: greg