Marijuana legal for pain relief
August 2, 2001
Not everyone was cheering last week as Canada became the first country in the world to legalize doctor-prescribed marijuana for people suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions that produce severe pain.
Among those voicing worry was the Canadian Medical Association. Police, too, must be wondering about enforcing laws that apply to most citizens, but not all. Still others perceive a slippery legal slope that will lead to wider drug use.
An Ontario Court of Appeal ruling last year, one in a string of judgments sanctioning marijuana use for patients with such grave ailments as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and severe arthritis, told the Canadian government to create a legal avenue for those patients to obtain their dope. Under the new regulations, those patients may grow marijuana for their own needs or have someone else do it for them including the government.
Even when the state-sanctioned supply materializes, the CMA notes, there will still be a dearth of reliable data on marijuana's long-term effects on the seriously ill, particularly if those people are also ingesting other drugs. Results from the first clinical tests will not be assessed until next year.
The new regulations, in sum, are the result of court rulings rather than medical evidence. There are plenty of unknowns in this experiment, which is being watched closely from around the world. At the same time, severe pain is sometimes unbearable. Ask anyone who has to live with it.
As for law enforcement, there is no disputing that the new landscape creates difficulties and may become more complicated still. Sooner or later probably sooner a recreational pot-smoker will be found to have lied to his or her doctor, or in some other dishonest way tried to secure exemption from the criminal law. And when hundreds of kilos of state-grown pot start appearing, it will be remarkable if a portion of that is not diverted.