Canada’s Fallacy of a drug review continues

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Marijuana IS Medicine


Canada’s farce of a drug policy review continues,

despite no funding, internal bickering, and a
general lack of common sense.

By Matthew Elrod

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      Despite a complete lack of media coverage, the
      review of Canada’s drug policies by the Standing Committee on Health quietly
      continues. Committee meetings held last fall focused on Bill C-71, a bill
      to crack down on tobacco by restricting advertising and event sponsorships,
      but the Committee turned its attention back to drug policy last December.

      Realistically, this review is a waste of time
      which will not accomplish any changes to Canada’s drug policy. Committee
      members are generally ignorant about the effects of illegal drugs, and
      hostile towards suggestions that criminal prohibition is a bad policy.
      There has been no cross-country travelling to hear public testimony as
      originally promised, and the committee hearings have generally been rushed
      and superficial.

      What follows is a summary of testimony and committee meetings to

    Dr Kalant Disappoints

    On December 3, the
    Committee heard evidence presented by Professor Harold Kalant of the Addiction
    Research Foundation. Those of you fortunate enough to have seen the CBC’s
    November 27 Health Show on the medicinal use of cannabis may recognize
    Dr Kalant as the “expert” who tarnished what was an otherwise excellent
    program, by dismissing the medicinal value of cannabis and advocating instead
    synthetic THC capsules known as Marinol.1

    Dr Kalant’s testimony to the Standing
    Committee was as disappointing as his appearance on the Health Show. Kalant
    compared the effects of cannabis to cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates
    and alcohol, saying “the acuteness of perception, speed of reaction and
    ability to monitor different sources of information at the same time are
    impaired by cannabis just as they are by alcohol.”

    Kalant brought up the
    “antimotivational syndrome” myth, apparently unaware of studies conducted
    by Duncan and Gold in 1982, which concluded that antimotivational syndrome
    could be added to the “growing scrap heap of discarded marijuana myths.”
    Though Kalant admitted that “this situation clears up if the person stops
    smoking” he went on to say “in a few cases it does not clear up. In such
    cases there’s good reason to believe there is some degree of brain cell
    damage similar to what one sees in the severe, chronic alcoholic who suffers
    irreversible brain changes.” Sigh.

    Kalant’s testimony
    continued in this way, hinting at “dependence syndrome,” “psychotic breakdown,”
    “immune cell impairment,” “low testosterone levels” and “low sperm counts.”
    Though he qualified his evidence with words like “depends,” “may,” “theoretically,”
    and “evidence suggests” one can imagine the glazed eyes of the committee
    members and the notes they were taking.

    A Pause for Reflection

    Dr Kalant concluded
    his testimony by predicting that “if the use of cannabis becomes much more
    widespread the number of people suffering significant health consequences
    will go up correspondingly. It could conceivably become just as great a
    problem as current problems with alcohol.”

    Let’s just think about
    this for a minute. According to the doctor’s own Addiction Research Foundation,
    approximately 7000 Canadians die from alcohol consumption every year. Alcohol-related
    traffic accidents kill another 1500. About 40,000 Canadians die from tobacco-related
    illnesses annually. No one has ever died from a cannabis overdose and cannabis-related
    traffic fatalities are statistically immeasurable. No matter how many people
    use cannabis, any number times zero is zero. Even if every Canadian from
    Vancouver to Halifax became a regular cannabis consumer, the health consequences
    of cannabis use could never approach the damage done by alcohol and tobacco.

    As the doctor stated
    himself, “One doesn’t expect to see serious health effects in the person
    who smokes pot occasionally, we’re talking here essentially about regular
    heavy users.”

    At this time about
    five percent of Canadians are occasional cannabis users. A mere one percent
    of the population can be described as regular heavy users. By contrast,
    about eighty-two percent of Canadians drink alcoholic beverages. If the
    doctor believes that legal cannabis would become as popular as alcohol,
    then we have to ask just which Canadians currently support cannabis prohibition?

    Because cannabis can
    be a substitute for alcohol, an increase in cannabis consumption would
    likely result in a decrease in alcohol-related illness, fatalities, violence
    and accidents. Perhaps Dr Kalant will make the same doomsday predictions
    when he appears as the Crown’s star witness against Christopher Clay’s
    upcoming constitutional challenge. Dr Lester Grinspoon would have a field

    Eugene Explains, Szabo Stews

    The Committee meeting
    of February 11 also yielded some fascinating testimony. Eugene Oscapella,
    appearing as a representative of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association,
    presented a video excerpt from the CBC program on drug policy, David Suzuki’s
    The Nature of Things.

    Committee members seemed to appreciate
    the chance to watch TV and hopefully took advantage of Oscapella’s offer
    to provide each of them with a recording of the entire program. Oscapella
    once again made a compelling plea for the Committee to “examine in a truly
    non-partisan manner the many possible alternatives to the criminal prohibition
    of drugs.” A nice idea, but don’t hold your breath Eugene.

    Committee member Paul
    Szabo repeated an earlier attack on Oscapella, saying that Oscapella “didn’t
    have the guts” to tell the Committee what he stood for. Szabo does not
    have the brain cells to comprehend Oscapella’s position. No doubt Szabo
    thinks Oscapella stands for cocaine vending machines in nursery schools.

    Szabo, seemingly suffering from a loss
    of short-term memory, accused Oscapella of “offering no suggestions” as
    to what alternatives the Committee might explore. Fortunately, Mr Oscapella
    was able to jar Szabo’s foggy memory by drawing his attention to a binder
    he had with him, containing about 400 pages of documentation on alternatives.

    Oscapella also reminded Szabo that he,
    Oscapella, had assisted in the development of proposals that would have
    amended Bill C-8, had such amendments ever been seriously considered.

    Tolerance in Dispute

    Subsequent evidence,
    presented by the eloquent Jean-Claude Bernheim, President of the Ligue
    Antiprohibitioniste du Quebec, seemed to fall on deaf ears.

    Paul Szabo asked Bernheim
    the following loaded, long-winded and poorly phrased question, “if young
    people were told that drugs, which are today prohibited as illegal substances,
    are all of a sudden legal to use, and that the government will provide
    them safely, cheaply, etc, so that there’s a harm reduction in attitude,
    do you have an opinion as to whether or not you think the use of drugs
    by young people would increase or decrease?”

    Bernheim adroitly cited the Dutch experience
    with cannabis tolerance that resulted in a brief increase in cannabis use
    and a steady decline of all recreational drug use thereafter. Evidently
    Szabo has not studied Dutch drug policy.

    Martin maybe Seeing the Light

    On the bright side,
    Reform MP and Committee member Keith Martin seems to be coming to his senses.
    In a February appearance on CBC Newsworld’s Ralph Benmergui Show, Martin
    said that “marijuana is clogging up our court system, wasting our police
    officers’ time, so let’s decriminalize it.” Though Martin shows more compassion
    for the court system than the cannabis users clogging it up, the evidence
    presented before the Committee may be sinking in.

    Martin continued “This is not a moral
    issue, this is a health issue.” Overlooking the immorality of incarcerating
    cannabis users, Martin’s apparent change of heart is encouraging.

    A Fistful of Dollars

    Following the compassionate
    but hurried testimony of Rachell Bard and Mary Ellen Jeans of the Canadian
    Nurses Association, the February 11 meeting became a partisan bickering
    match between the Committee members.

    Chairman Roger Simmons reminded the Committee
    that, due to the control of the Committee budget by Reform MP Grant Hill,
    a planned regional meeting in Newfoundland had been cancelled. The Chairman
    observed that the alternate plan of flying the east coast witnesses to
    Ottawa would cost more than transporting the Committee members to Newfoundland.

    Reformer Keith Martin
    recommended the east coast witnesses submit their evidence on paper to
    save taxpayers the transportation costs. So much for a “hearing.” Liberal
    Joseph Volpe agreed with Martin, saying that after the Committee had been
    given three or four weeks to read the submissions they could gather to
    discuss the evidence.

    Said Volpe, “We used
    to do that at university, and I think it’s a great idea, but we used to
    finish that off with a test.” Volpe may be on to something. How about a
    timed comprehension test on the report of the Le Dain Commission and the
    Coroner’s Report into Illicit Narcotic Overdose Deaths in British Columbia?
    We’d happily publish the test results in Cannabis Canada.

    Obviously irritated
    by what he called Grant Hill’s “nickel and diming,” Chairman Simmons remarked,
    “It gets to the point where I can tell you how to save all the money. Let’s
    have no hearings. Let’s go home.”

    It’s odd that the Committee
    should suddenly become so concerned about wasting public funds, especially
    considering that more is spent on prohibition enforcement every hour than
    the Committee could spend in a year. Chairman Simmons recognized this absurdity
    saying “This is such a farce, this hypocrisy about saving money.” Canadian
    drug policy is certainly hypocritical, but my dictionary defines a farce
    as, “a comedy marked by humour and extravagant wit.” The Committee’s performance
    is what playwrights call a tragedy.

    Chairman Simmons summed
    it all up with the eloquent statement “It’s so full of hypocrisy I could
    vomit.” Funny he should mention that. The war on drugs is so full of hypocrisy
    I sometimes feel nauseous. I would recommend the Chairman smoke a joint
    to settle his stomach, but in Canada even making that recommendation can
    get you arrested.

    Recent Updates

    The Committee met again
    on February 18 to hear evidence from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Concerns
    Canada, the Council on Drug Abuse and Parents Against Drugs. Unfortunately
    the transcript of this meeting was not available at the time this article
    was written. As of February 21 the Committee had not scheduled any more

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