HempBC Online – Dana Larsen debates the legalization of marijuana in the Toronto

        Should pot be legalized?
        One side says prohibition is more harmful than marijuana itself.The other side sees no reason to legalize and lots of reasons not to

        Pubdate: Monday, 05 January 1998, OPED
        Source:  Toronto Star
        Contact: [email protected]

        By  Neil Seeman and Philip Seeman

        Trends in California usually knock on Canada’s door a few years later.In 1996, California voters approved the use of marijuana for seriouslyill patients upon written recommendation by a physician. Should marijuanabe approved in Canada for medical use? We say no.

        The inhalation of marijuana smoke has been proposed for several illnesses,but most often for nausea and vomiting
        during cancer chemotherapy, or in AIDS. The nausea associated withthese conditions is now treated with low
        doses of Haldol, Stemetil or Gravol. Even more effective are the newer(albeit expensive) medications, Kytril and Zofran.

        What is the best treatment for the nausea which is so often an extracross to bear for patients receiving chemotherapy or dying of AIDS? Itis essential to stop the nausea and vomiting so that patients may gainstrength to withstand illness and take medications with meals.

        Compared to these currently used medications, smokeable marijuana ishighly overrated; it is not consistently effective because the inhaleddose is difficult to control, and, therefore, not medically useful. Infact, the active ingredient in marijuana (THC or  tetrahydrocannabinol)is already available by prescription in Canada and the U.S. as Cesametand Marinol. Excess doses of oral or suppository forms of these drugs domake patients drowsy and dizzy with blurred vision. Yet despite the occasionaldramatic example of how smokeable marijuana stops nausea, there is simplyno evidence among any analyzed cohort of patients that marijuana bestowsan advantage over the current medications.

        Now that hospitals have finally been made smoke-free, the idea of invitingmarijuana smoke on to cancer or AIDS wards should make hospital workersgasp. Marijuana cigarettes – which contain some 400 known chemicals andpossibly many
        more unknown chemicals whose effects are potentially dangerous – haveat least 50 per cent more tar than tobacco cigarettes. Moreover, marijuanasmoke usually irritates the bronchi, causing bronchitis and pre-cancerouslung pathology, all not helpful to patients who are getting along reasonablywell.

         From a medical viewpoint, there is no over-all benefit to be gainedby legalizing marijuana and having it readily available. To be approvedby the Health Protection Branch in Ottawa, marijuana must be safe and effective.Smokeable marijuana is not pure, and the inhaled doses are impossible toregulate, so that any results are unpredictable – both the sought-afterresults (relief of nausea or pain) and unwanted effects (mental confusionand lung irritation).

        Marijuana is not particularly safe. Its public health hazards far outweighany potential salutary benefits. In addition to pre-cancerous bronchitis,the long-term hazards of marijuana include confusion, brain damage, highwaydeaths, work accidents, spousal abuse and neglect, increased risk of geneticabnormalities, and a high potential for addiction.

        Would legalization of medicinal marijuana result in increased usage?Probably. One piece of evidence is a Council on Drug Abuse survey, whichasked Canadian teenagers if they would use more if marijuana were accordedlegal or
        quasi-legal status; 30 per cent of respondents said they would. Ifthis were the case, increased use of marijuana would lead to more use-relatedaccidents and medical complications.

        There is no evidence that marijuana offers benefits over current medications.Even if such evidence did exist, it should be evaluated not by speculation,hearsay or by arguments purporting to champion civil “liberties,” butby the same rigourous scientific standards to which we subject all newdrugs and medications.

        Neil Seeman is a lawyer currently studying health policy at
        the Harvard School of
        Public Health. Philip Seeman is professor of pharmacology
        and psychiatry and the
        Max and Anne Tanenbaum Chair of Neuroscience at the
        University of Toronto.

        Pubdate: Monday, 05 January 1998, OPED
        Source:  Toronto Star
        Contact: [email protected]

        By Dana Larsen

        The time has come to end the war on marijuana.

        There are about 2 million marijuana users in Canada, and well over 200million of us worldwide. We are ordinary people from all walks of life.We are your friends and family, your teachers, your students, your leadersand your citizens.

        Medical experts and scientific studies agree that marijuana users aredecent people who are no different from other members of society. Despitethis, billions of dollars are spent every year in a worldwide attempt toeradicate marijuana and viciously persecute its users.

        Each year about 100,000 Canadians are arrested for a marijuana offence.More than 30,000 of them are found guilty, and about 6,000 of them aresentenced to jail. This pointless and wasteful system has branded morethan 600,000 Canadians with the life-long stigma of a criminal record,simply for possessing marijuana.

        Right now hundreds of thousands of people are in prison for marijuanaoffences around the world. In many cases violent criminals were releasedto make room for these peaceful gardeners and pot smokers.

        This government prohibition is a scourge that creates violence, tearsapart families, ruins lives, corrupts law enforcement, overflows the justicesystem, destabilizes governments and brutalizes society.

        Despite decades of propaganda, most Canadians accept marijuana usersas decent, law-abiding citizens. Polls consistently show that Canadianswant marijuana removed from criminal law. A recent Angus Reid poll revealedthat an astounding 83 per cent want marijuana available for medical use.

        Numerous scientific studies have verified the efficacy of marijuanain the treatment of glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasticity andnausea. Their results have been confirmed and have appeared in prestigious,peer-reviewed publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association,the Annals of Internal Medicine, and many others.

        Many Canadian physicians and their patients report that marijuana providesrelief from ailments including chronic pain, insomnia, seizures and depression.Some medical marijuana users like epileptic Terry Parker and London MSsufferer Lynn Williams have gone public with their use and faced arrestto fight for their right to use this medicinal herb.

        Marijuana is also good medicine even for those who do not suffer froma serious medical condition. Choosing to relax with marijuana instead ofalcohol is a responsible decision, since, unlike alcohol, marijuana isnon-toxic and relatively harmless.

        Canadian marijuana prohibition originated in anti-Chinese racism. Inthe early 1920s Maclean’s ran a series of articles by Emily Murphy, whichwere compiled into a book called The Black Candle.

        The book was very popular and almost solely responsible for marijuanaprohibition in Canada. At one point Emily Murphy explains whom she blamesfor the marijuana peril:

         “An addict who died this year in British Columbia told how hewas frequently jeered at as a `white man accounted for.’ The Chinese peddlerstaunted him with their superiority at being able to sell the dope withoutusing it, and by telling him how the yellow race would rule the world.

        “Some of the Negroes coming into Canada – and they are no fiddle-faddlefellows either, have similar ideas, and one of their greatest writers hasboasted how ultimately they will control the white man.”

        The criminal prohibition is an anachronism from the 1920s that is nolonger appropriate for our society. The continued persecution of marijuanasmokers is harmful and destructive to Canadian society.

        Most Canadians agree that marijuana is a valuable herbal medicine whichshould not be exterminated. It’s time to end Canada’s war on marijuanaand cannabis culture.

        Dana Larsen is editor of Cannabis Canada,
        Canada’s National Magazine of Marijuana and Hemp

        What do you think? We’ll publish a selection of views in a
        column on the Letters page
        next Monday. Please limit responses to about 50 words.
        Write: Readers Face-Off, 1 Yonge St., Toronto, M5E 1E6 (fax:
        (e-mail: [email protected])