Pot's not the problem, Mr. Harper

Source: Telegraph-Journal

Copyright: Black Press Digital

Contact: [email protected]

Website: http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/opinion/article/1261671

By: Charles W. Moore

Published: October 14, 2010

When will governments – in particular the Harper Conservative government – get the message? The one about how medical marijuana has potential to be one of the most useful, effective, and relatively safe, not to mention cheapest, pharmacological agents?

This was lately affirmed yet again by publication in the Canadian Medical Association Journal of a McGill University Health Centre randomized, placebo–controlled clinical trial. It confirmed that marijuana offers significant pain reduction and improvements in sleep quality and anxiety to persons with chronic neuropathic pain – results achieved through smoking relatively small amounts of pot. Most participants reported they didn't get high from the drug, with "euphoria" reported on only three occasions.

No surprise here to folks already using medical marijuana to relieve pain, but contradicting, yet again, boilerplate assertions by pot–phobic politicians and establishmentarian gatekeepers that there is very little proof of marijuana's therapeutic value.

Of course, a strong ideological component underlies opposition to medical marijuana among many conservatives, which helps explain Harperite hostility and foot–dragging on bringing policy on the issue into the 21st Century. Big Pharma is offside as well, since pot itself can't be patented and sold at astronomical prices, although the few standardized potency marijuana–derived drugs currently available are outrageously expensive, considering that the active ingredient – Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – can be almost literally dirt–cheap to produce and could sell for as little as $10 per ounce retail if legalized.

In Canada, serious recreational pot legalization initiatives are nowhere on the horizon, but medical marijuana is an issue that's not going away, however much the Harper government would like it to. Marijuana has been illegal in Canada since 1923, but in 2001, under court order, Health Canada established marijuana medical access regulations outlining conditions and authorizing licensing for possession, production and use of the herb for medical purposes when prescribed by a physician, who must be a specialist.

As of August, 2010, 4,903 Canadians held licences to possess marijuana for medical purposes, up from with 2,888 in August 2008, but a functionary (who shall remain anonymous) at Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Division told me last month that applications volume has tripled this year, with no increase in department staff, and processing backlogs run eight to 10 months.

There have also been complaints from licencees of long delays in receiving shipments of medical marijuana ordered from Health Canada, making it difficult to get the drug when needed.

Indeed, one is obliged to draw the inference that the Harper government would prefer to get rid of the medical marijuana program entirely, but short of that are doing all they can to keep it as minimal, strangled in red tape, and inefficient as they can get away with – for example, requiring an array of separate licenses to possess, purchase, grow and use medical marijuana, requiring annual renewal, and a process fraught with bureaucratic and gatekeeping obstacles due to marijuana's legal status, lumped in with indisputably harmful street drugs like crack cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth.

If this indeed be the operative dynamic, the Tories are callously adding to the quotient of pain and hardship of seriously ill Canadians, presumably to serve an ideological bias.

With about 14 per cent of Canadians being pot–users and marijuana now British Columbia's No. 1 cash crop, estimated at $5 billion to $8 billion in annual value, governments are missing out on a massive potential tax revenue bonanza by keeping pot illegal.

Former Canadian Alliance MP – and now Liberal – Keith Martin has calculated $150 million would be saved in court costs annually by decriminalizing marijuana possession – not to mention potential Canadian leadership in medical marijuana research and the humanitarian virtue of helping people battling pain and misery.

Charles W. Moore is a Nova Scotia based freelance writer and editor. He can be reached by e–mail at [email protected] His column appears each Thursday.