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Court open to marijuana reform


Smack-dab in the middle of 2011's federal election campaign, Ontario Superior Court Justice Donald Taliano ruled that regulations imposed under Health Canada's medical marijuana program are unconstitutional, effectively rendering likewise two sections of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act prohibiting possession and cultivation of pot.


Woodstock Police Cpl. Carter Stone loads marijuana plants seized from a home in Woodstock.


That could've been a smoking-hot bombshell lobbed into the laps of campaigning politicians, and it says volumes that no party leader made any comment, at least that I've been able to turn up. Consequently, it must have been a relief to all when Judge Taliano wisely opted to suspend his ruling for three months, by which time electoral dust will have settled. That will give Health Canada, the Justice Department, and whatever government emerges time to thoughtfully and dispassionately (we hope) ponder whether to appeal Judge Taliano's decision or address medical marijuana regulation with more sensible, compassionate, and humane legislation than the bureaucratic travesty that's been in place since Jean Chrétien's Liberal government, responding to a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, grudgingly established a medical cannabis licensing and supply infrastructure.


For their part, Harper Conservative governments have done all they could to undermine medical marijuana use, pricing government-supplied pot at street-dealer prices - creating more hardship for many seriously ill patients who need the medication - and cutting $4 million in funding from medical marijuana research, a move bordering on malicious ideological spite.


Judge Taliano ruled on a case brought by 37-year-old St. Catharines, Ontario resident Matthew Mernagh, who reportedly suffers from manifold illnesses including fibromyalgia, seizures and scoliosis, and says marijuana is the most effective agent for treating his pain.


However, like many other Canadians in analogically similar circumstances, Mr. Mernagh has been unsuccessful at getting access to a specialist physician among the few empowered by Health Canada to sign off on medical marijuana licence applications. Consequently he resorted to growing his own and was charged under current statutes for illegally cultivating cannabis. Happily, those charges have been stayed along with Judge Taliano's ruling until the constitutional matter is resolved.


Judge Taliano found that the regulatory regime set up under current "Marihuana Medical Access Regulations" has failed to ensure that patients needing therapeutic marijuana get necessary approvals within a reasonable time frame, if at all, forcing many to either go without or resort to illegal means to obtain their medication, also striking down the aforementioned Controlled Drugs and Substances Act sections as unconstitutional because it can be used to charge medical marijuana users who haven't been able to obtain medical marijuana licences.


"Rather than promote health - the regulations have the opposite effect. Rather than promote effective drug control - the regulations drive the critically ill to the black market," the judge wrote in his decision.


Governments' peevish, foot-dragging, marginal compliance with court rulings on medical marijuana has been irrational and inhumane, callously adding to the quotient of pain and hardship of seriously ill Canadians, presumably to serve an ideological bias. People struggling with painful, debilitating illnesses shouldn't have to battle the government and pay junkie-dealer prices for access to medicine that provides relief. As Judge Taliano affirmed, ill people should be able to get the drugs they need and not be branded as criminals for so-doing. If research wasn't being suppressed by governments for ideological and political reasons, indications are that medical marijuana could prove effective for a wider range of ailments than ones where it's already being applied (legally and illegally), such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, other neurological disorders, nausea associated with chemotherapy, epilepsy, asthma, migraines, peptic ulcer, clinical depression, chronic pain, anorexia, alcoholism, inflammation, hypertension, some cancer tumours, and AIDS.


Last October, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published results of a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial by a Montreal-based team led by Dr. Mark A. Ware, director of research at the McGill University Health Centre's Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit. The researchers found that a single inhalation of 25 mg of 9.4 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol herbal cannabis (the highest strength authorized under Health Canada's medical marijuana program) three times daily for five days reduced the intensity of pain, improved sleep, and was well-tolerated, and that further long-term safety and efficacy studies are indicated.


Incidentally, Heath Canada estimates a lethal dose of cannabis at 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount in one marijuana cigarette. No other painkilling drug, including popular OTCs like Tylenol and Aspirin, comes close to matching marijuana for low-toxicity.


Dependence risk is a relatively low 9 percent, and marijuana withdrawal symptoms, if any, are comparatively mild.


The Taliano ruling provides a golden opportunity for whatever government emerges from the May 2 election to respond with more medical marijuana research support along with much-needed reform of medical marijuana regulations. Unhappily, indications are that pot-phobic politicians and establishmentarian gatekeepers will more likely just tie resolution of the issue up in a lengthy legal appeals process.


Charles W. Moore is a Nova Scotia based freelance writer and editor. He can be reached by e-mail at cwmoore@gmx.net. His column appears each Thursday.




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