Canada's Marijuana Laws Up in Smoke?
Posted by Steve Davis | June 07 2011 | 7147 views | Comments ↓
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Canadian medical marijuana activists and patients, along with recreational marijuana users, were holding their breath in anticipation of July 10, 2011. What’s so special about marijuana and that particular date? If the Canadian federal government hadn't appealed a pro-marijuana Ontario Superior Court ruling, Canada’s entire set of federal marijuana laws would have become invalid on July 10th.
How it happened shows the power medical marijuana patients can have. Start with 37-year-old Matt Mernagh, 37, a southern Ontario resident and marijuana author-activist who says he uses medical marijuana to treat fibromyalgia, seizures and spinal problems.
Canada’s medical marijuana laws allow patients to legally grow and possess marijuana as long as they can find a doctor to sign official forms authorizing such use.
But as in the United States, doctors and medical associations have a dim view of medical marijuana, and few doctors help patients obtain the legal right to medical marijuana.
Mernagh spent many years on futile visits to doctors trying to get someone to sign his medical marijuana form, but no doctor would help. So he filed a court appeal with the Ontario Superior Court.
The appeal was heard by Justice Donald Taliano, who also took testimony from other Canadians who had similar difficulties obtaining doctor’s medical marijuana assistance.
“Mernagh lives with constant pain,” Taliano’s ruling notes. “Prescription medications have failed to provide adequate relief for his condition, and in many ways, they create additional problems. Marihuana, used medicinally, eases his symptoms and allows him to function.”
Unable to get medical marijuana legally, Mernagh grew his own and was busted. He filed his court challenge, and was fortunate to find a compassionate, fair judge who listened to the evidence and ruled against the federal government’s medical marijuana laws, saying that the laws give doctors too much power to block patient’s access to the medical marijuana rights authorized by law.
“Seriously ill persons who need marihuana to treat their symptoms are forced to choose between their health and their liberty. If they choose their health, they must go to significant lengths to obtain the marihuana they need, including lengthy trips to purchase the drug, resort to the black market and living with the constant stress that at any time they could be subject to criminal prosecution,” Taliano’s ruling says.
What can the government do to reform its medical marijuana access program? Taliano suggests expanding the list of medical professionals who can sign the official medical marijuana patient application for the patient. He also suggests making it easier for patients to find regular allopathic doctors willing to sign medical marijuana forms.
Technically, Taliano’s ruling applies only to the province of Ontario, but legal experts say that if one of Canada’s largest, most influential provinces “legalizes” marijuana cultivation and possession, that the effect would be de facto nationwide legalization.
If you are a citizen of the United States seeking to imitate Mernagh’s success, you have higher hurdles to jump because federal marijuana laws totally diss state medical marijuana legalization efforts. Lawsuits could be filed against individual doctors or doctor’s associations because American medical marijuana patients are also subject to discrimination by the vast majority of doctors who refuse to assist patients in obtaining the legal right to grow and possess medical marijuana under state laws.
What’s the likely outcome in Canada? Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an ultra-conservative right-winger who for years has been trying to increase criminal penalties for marijuana possession and cultivation.
Harper just won a majority government, and has even more power now than he did when the Mernagh ruling was announced. Harper’s government has appealed the Ontario ruling; observers say the Canadian Supreme Court will eventually decide the issue. So if you’re holding your breath waiting for July 10, 2011, you can breathe again.
The Canadian situation occurs against the backdrop of significant international movement away from the drug war. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which consists of high-level international politicians, experts and scientists, just issued a report calling for an end to the War on Drugs. The fact that Canada’s government is tightening prohibition seems especially out of step with the times.
In the meantime, Mernagh’s victory- even if it’s temporary- shows the differences between the Canadian and US legal systems, and also shows the power that dedicated medical marijuana activists can have.
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Monday, 06 June 2011
Article by Steve Davis, on Jun. 7th 2011