This sparked the beginning of a heated national debate, the subject in question being the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes in Canada.
While marijuana is still considered an illegal substance in Canada, it is approved for use under certain circumstances. It is available for applicants who have a terminal illness with a prognosis of a life span of less than 12 months, those who suffer from specific symptoms associated with certain serious medical conditions, or those who have symptoms associated with a serious medical circumstance, where conventional treatments have failed to relieve symptoms (Health Canada, "Medical Marijuana").
Due to previous stigmatizations associated with marijuana use, as well as its previous legal implications, public favor was not in support for the recent Bill C-17; a Bill for cannabis law reform in Canada, which was passed on November 1, 2004. The legislation allows a person to have up to 30 grams of marijuana in their possession, within limitations, while only receiving a fine (Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, "Cannabis Law Reform in Canada"). This Act is the closest the Canadian government has ever before come toward legalizing marijuana. It is becoming increasingly apparent that through Bill C-17, there will be potentially beneficial monetary implications for the federal government, false social perceptions will lessen, and medical benefits of cannabis use will become further appreciated. In the future, marijuana use will not be perceived as the social 'evil' it once was, or still is. In light of the following information, it will become clear that it is not necessary to prohibit marijuana use, but rather to regulate it.
To drug policy reformers, prohibition of marijuana is not just a cause to be supported, but a mandatory way of life, necessary to uphold society's moral fiber. These activists do not consider marijuana to be safe. Even when scientific information supports the lack of harmful effects of cannabis on the body; many still categorize it with dangerous substances such as cocaine or heroin. It is these 'marijuana myths' that continue to influence the opinions of so many Canadian citizens, even though there is a lack of fact-driven information to support common social stigma.
A widespread belief amongst the public is that marijuana is a 'gateway drug', leading to the use of more harmful substances. Never has there been a consistent relationship between the use patterns of various drugs. While marijuana use has fluctuated over the years, harder, more addictive drug use, such as LSD, remains the same. In fact, in 1999 less than 16% of high school students who smoked marijuana report trying cocaine (qtd. in Zimmer, 2). Another frequent misconception is that high levels of marijuana use can be profoundly addicting. While lab rats that are injected with THC and then given a cannabinoid receptor-blocker do experience some withdrawal symptoms, such as disturbed sleep and loss of appetite, humans are never given 'blockers'. THC slowly leaves the human system, causing no serious withdrawal (Zimmer et al. 47). A study such as this is not relevant to physical addiction in humans.
Lastly, many people still believe that the damaging effects of smoking marijuana are greater then that of smoking tobacco products. Although, except for their psychoactive ingredients, tobacco and marijuana smoke are nearly identical, tobacco use is far more dangerous than the latter. Mainly because of nicotine (cigarettes' addictive quality), cigarette smokers tend to smoke 10 cigarettes a day, while regular cannabis smokers smoke fewer than 5 (Zimmer et al. 62). Marijuana smoke also effects the lungs in a different way than tobacco smoke does. "The nature of the marijuana-induced changes were also different, occurring primarily in the lungs' large airways - not the small peripheral airways affected by tobacco smoke. Since it is small-airway inflammation that causes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, marijuana smokers may not develop these diseases" (Zimmer et al. 64).
These are just a few basic examples of the social stigmatization surrounding marijuana use, as there are many others. When closer examined, none of these 'myths' provide a solid foundation for the prohibition of marijuana use; therefore its ban remains unfounded.
A very influential factor regarding the legalization of marijuana, is the cost implications of maintaining cannabis prohibition to the federal and provincial governments, and in turn the average Canadian taxpayer. According to the Auditor General of Canada, it is projected that approximately $450 million was spent on drug control, enforcement, and education in the year 2000.
Since 3/4 of drug offenses are marijuana related, the majority of the $450 million spent across Canada was due to cannabis prohibition laws. This expenditure also does not include funding for marijuana related court hearings, or incarcerations, as over 300 000 people are arrested for simple marijuana possession every year (Cohen et al. 2). Another issue to consider is that the amount of cannabis users continues to rise across Canada, up from 6.5% in 1989, to 12.2% in 2000 (Nabalamba, 1).
This will only increase the amount of funding the federal government is forced to contribute to drug control and enforcement, further charging the taxpayer. A more cost efficient way to regulate marijuana is to set an age limit through provincial regulation, permitting for adult use of a substance less harmful than both alcohol and tobacco. Otherwise, it is left in the hands of organized crime, with the government continuing to spend millions on its prohibition, and not profiting from its continuous increase in use. In this situation, the regulation of marijuana should not only be allowed, but would financially benefit the country.
Even after thousands of years of people using marijuana to treat a variety of medical conditions, many still believe marijuana is a drug without therapeutic value. Patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy, or AIDS related AZT therapy, found smoking marijuana to be an effective way to curb nausea (Health Canada, "Medical Marijuana"). Often it is more effective than available prescribed medications. "44% of oncologists responding to a questionnaire said they had recommended marijuana to their cancer patients; others said they would recommend it if it were legal" (Zimmer et al. 87). Other uses include control for muscle spasms associated with spinal cord injury/disease, and multiple sclerosis and pain/ weight loss associated with cancer, HIV, and arthritis patients.
Cannabis also lessens the frequency of seizures in epilepsy, and controls eye pressure in glaucoma patients (National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Drug Policy Information Sheet"). Although medical marijuana has been approved for use under certain circumstances, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain cannabis for treatment purposes in Ontario. This is because the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario issued a warning in October 2002, cautioning that the "clinical efficacy of the drug has not been entirely established" and to "proceed with caution" when prescribing cannabis (The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, "Prescribing Medical Marijuana"). Due to this, a physician cannot make a proper declaration of the risks and benefits; therefore, they can not fully inform the patient of the drugs possible effects.
Fortunately, since the legalization of marijuana for medical use occurred almost 5 years ago, one could assume a proper risk assessment of the drug will soon be completed through Health Canada. Through marijuana's apparent medical usages, it becomes clear that it should be regulated across the country.
The implication of marijuana's prohibition is financially devastating to the federal government. As false social perceptions are the only grounds for this ban to be upheld, and the medical sciences continue to find new usages for cannabis as therapeutic treatment, it remains unfounded to continue its outlaw. Through government enforced regulation, it becomes obvious that the benefits of marijuana legalization outweigh the disadvantages.
Reference: Alex Simms is a content writer for Avalon Studios, a Web Design & Development firm working with small businesses