giving pot plants a place in the sun

Try this for a novel experience. Ask your doctor to prescribe smoking as a cure for what ails you. What do you predict will be the outcome? That's the dilemma faced by would-be medical marijuana users in Canada today.

Try this for a novel experience. Ask your doctor to prescribe smoking as a cure for what ails you. What do you predict will be the outcome?

That’s the dilemma faced by would-be medical marijuana users in Canada today. Cannabis has been found effective against a list of ailments, from fibromyalgia to the nausea associated with chemotherapy, but smoking is a killer, associated with heart disease and cancer.

True, smoking is not the only way to ingest cannabis. It can be eaten or vapourized, eliminating the massive ingestion of tar that is the nastiest element of smoke inhalation. The trouble is, nobody knows the health implications of nonsmokeable dope. When doctors prescribe drugs, they’re supposed to know what risks are associated with their use, in order to balance the potential harm they might do with the benefits they offer.

Canadian law permits the use of weed for certain medical conditions, if it’s prescribed by a doctor. Many people suffering from those conditions have no hope in the world of finding a doctor to write that prescription.

The Canadian Medical Association’s position on the matter is that “The same safety and evidence standards should apply to medical marijuana as to pharmaceutical products”.

In the absence of testing to establish those standards, a lot of doctors are unwilling to prescribe marijuana. So as a patient, your access to a drug that may be the only relief you can get from sometimes unbearable symptoms is determined by where you live, and whether you are able to travel and shop around for a sympathetic doctor.

This is the situation faced by fibromyalgia and scoliosis sufferer Matthew Mernagh, who was busted in St. Catherines, Ontario for growing his own weed after he couldn’t find a doctor to prescribe the government-supplied variety. Mr. Justice Donald Taliano of the Ontario Superior Court found that the arrest violated Mr. Mernagh’s constitutional right to liberty, and struck down Canada’s laws against possession and cultivation of marijuana.

Don’t rush out and stick your hitherto clandestine pot plants on that sunny window ledge facing the street just yet, the ruling gives the government 90 days to rewrite the law. Should they fail to do so, there will be no law against owning or growing dope, at least in Ontario. Given that laws can’t be written and passed that quickly, it’s more or less certain that the government will appeal the decision, to buy themselves more time.

When the Conservative government was defeated a couple of weeks ago, it was pushing its “anti-crime” Bill S-10. If passed, S-10 would create a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of as few as six pot plants. Stephen Harper has promised that if re-elected with a majority his first act will be to push that bill through the House.

In Harper’s well-financed, tightly controlled campaign, you may be sure that he wouldn’t be making this promise unless it had been studied and found to be popular with his conservative base. By way of an interesting contrast Alaska, one of the more conservative states in the US, has decriminalized possession of under an ounce of pot on strong libertarian grounds: the constitutional right to privacy in one’s own home.

It’s unreasonable to expect doctors to prescribe an untested drug. It’s even more so when that drug is normally smoked, an activity only slightly less unhealthy than jumping off cliffs. It’s even more unreasonable to lock people up (at the taxpayers’ expense, don’t forget) for using a substance that brings relief from some of the nastier ailments around. The solution seems simple enough, and should be palatable to conservatives and socialists alike. Never mind the medical marijuana quagmire, just legalize it.

Some people find that marijuana alleviates their symptoms, others enjoy it as a recreational drug. It’s not a particularly healthy thing to do, but if you don’t smoke it in public places or in homes where there are nonusers or children around, who does it hurt? Prohibition isn’t a conservative value, it’s just stupid. The Conservative party wants to waste your money locking people up, not only for treating themselves when they’re ill, but for one of the most basic individual freedoms a conservative ought to support: the right to go to hell in whatever damn handcart you choose.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

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