Turning inner space into outer space

November 7, 2011

Federal review on medical marijuana law needs more public input

When asked for comment about the recent police raid on the Canadian Safe Cannabis Society storefront, MP Cathy McLeod told The Daily News that a federal review of the medical marijuana law is now taking place.

That may have come as a surprise to many people, because so far the review has been keeping a low profile. It began closed-door talks on Sept. 28 in Ottawa. This news article from the CBC covers many of the concerns surrounding the law, but fails to mention the point of contention in Kamloops — the ability to legally buy it locally.

Much of the discussion instead revolves around the reluctance of doctors to get involved. They are being asked to play the role of gatekeepers. They decide whether someone receives authorization to use marijuana for medical purposes.

The doctors feel this puts them in a tough position, because they say there is a lack of clinical evidence to support the notion that marijuana has medicinal value. In fact, they say, there is plenty of evidence to show that it’s bad for you. Decades of studies demonstrate, for example, that smoking of any kind is bad for your lungs.

It’s to be expected that their concerns would be heard since the Canadian Medical Association is a well-funded lobby group with an influential membership.

What’s not being heard are questions about how people with permission to use marijuana are supposed to legally obtain it. In larger centres, so-called compassion clubs are numerous and for the most part police have left them alone. If Kamloops police were to succeed in shutting down the store owned by Carl Anderson, it would make life harder for a lot of people.

I don’t know how many people in Kamloops have permission to use marijuana, but it’s safe to say the number is growing. The CBC was able to obtain information from Health Canada indicating that as of Sept. 25, 2011, there are “12,264 individuals who hold a valid authorization to possess marijuana for medical purposes.”

Apparently, the department originally believed the number of people seeking permission would number in the hundreds, not the thousands. At the Health Canada website, people submitting applications are being told that the process has been streamlined to the point where a wait of eight to 10 weeks can be expected. Obviously, they have been dealing with backlogs.

What it all adds up to is an ever-increasing number of people with permission to use marijuana. And the laws of economics dictate that where there is demand — in this case legal demand — there must be supply. That means a big question the federal review will have to answer is the one of dispensation.

Who will be allowed to sell the drug and how? Will it be left to the private sector? Or will the government (with tax dollars) create a network of infrastructure in towns and cities across Canada? Can it possibly be covered with mail order?

The answers to these questions could have major implications as we decide just how tightly to regulate the use of marijuana. After all, if doctors are now deciding that marijuana can be good for you — despite a paucity of clinical evidence to support this — then the next step might be the freedom to decide for ourselves. And that, of course, would require legalization.

I would like to see the federal government give its review better publicity and make it more open to the public. Citizens should be given ample means to have their say.