has been renewed interest in the issue of the use of marijuana for therapeutic
purposes in recent years, particularly in Canada. In the wake of an Ontario
Court of Appeal ruling which found the provisions of the Controlled
Drugs and Substances Act to be unconstitutional pertaining to the
therapeutic use of marijuana, the federal Health Minister made new regulations
in July 2001 that give people with specified medical problems access to
marijuana under certain conditions. Later that same year, an international
conference on medicinal cannabis held in The Hague, Netherlands, drew delegates
from Canada and several other Western countries.
Earlier, in 1999, the National Institute of Medicine in the United States
published an assessment of the science base of marijuana and medicine.
the scientific community – the medical community in particular – is divided
on the real therapeutic effectiveness of marijuana. Some are quick to say that
opening the door to medical marijuana would be a step toward outright
legalization of the substance. Witness the following two quotes, the first of
which is from a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
in the United States:
is primarily the political muscle of the marijuana legalization proponents that
today creates the motivation to do additional research on marijuana smoke. […]
There is one explanation for the strident insistence of marijuana legalization
proponents that only smoked marijuana will do as ‘medicine’. They appear to
be determined to have sick medical patients smoking marijuana in the public eye.
They want that outcome because that act legitimizes the use of marijuana by
changing the common public perception of marijuana from a harmful drug to a
useful medicine. 
many who champion medical marijuana use do so on compassionate grounds, with the
firm conviction that smoked marijuana provides benefits unavailable by other
means, much support comes from those who advocate the liberalization of drug
policy and the decriminalization of drug use. 
true, as Professor Mark Ware pointed out in his testimony before the Committee,
that in the current legal and political context, it is difficult to conduct
studies and, more importantly, do so without being influenced by the heated
debate over marijuana.
us look at the effect that current drug policy has had on our understanding of
cannabis. All our data on the health effects of cannabis have been collected
under a paradigm of prohibition. This may seem self-evident but it constitutes
an important source of bias. In examining the health effects of cannabis, an
estimate of the use of cannabis in the healthy population is important. […]
Surveys of illicit drug use are notorious for poor response rates. It hampers
our ability to draw conclusions on what cannabis does, if we don’t really know
who is doing it. It is important to estimate the size of the bias, and the
effect it has had, and good research will always try to minimize it. However, in
my experience of critically reviewing the literature on cannabis effects on
health, examples exist where important estimates of risk are based on studies
which have inappropriate control selection. […] The question therefore changes
from ‘how has cannabis policy affected health?’ and becomes ‘has cannabis
policy affected our understanding of the health effects of cannabis?’ 
is also true that the issue of medicinal marijuana challenges us on the very
concept of modern medicine and its links with the pharmaceuticals industry,
since research on cannabinoids has already led to the development of synthetic
THC compounds. Drug companies are known to have played a major role in
international negotiations leading to the adoption of the first international
conventions on the control of psychoactive substances. Moreover, the marijuana
plant itself, because it cannot be patented, is of no interest to major
pharmaceutical research groups.
the scientific “proof” that marijuana is effective and the prospect of
physicians prescribing marijuana with sufficient confidence, many people
believe, based on personal experience, that marijuana has a direct impact in
terms of improving their well-being with minimum adverse effects. That view is
what led to the creation of “compassion clubs”, organizations that
distribute marijuana to growing numbers of clients. One of the questions this
raises is how much evidence is needed before people can be allowed to freely use
marijuana to relieve a medical condition. Indeed, do we have to think of
marijuana in strictly medical terms?
saw in Chapter 7 that the long-term effects of using marijuana, even on a
regular basis, are limited and that even the most serious effects, such as lung
cancer, have yet to be clearly demonstrated. We also saw that the adverse
effects of prolonged use on cognitive function are more prevalent in people who
are already vulnerable because of their young age when they started using, for
example, or their personal condition (for example, psychotic predispositions).
We also saw that, even assuming some tolerance and a certain level of
psychological dependency, those effects are minor, the signs of withdrawal
minor, and treatment shorter and less often necessary than for other drugs. To a
degree, it appears that the psychoactive properties of marijuana, which some see
coupled with rejection of society, others with a weak personality and still
others with immoral behaviour, make the substance suspect, whether in medical or
sense, the issue of medical marijuana is not so much a question of legalization
through the back door as it is a question of open examination of each person’s
underlying conception of the “drug”. In a way, it is a prime opportunity to
explore our preconceptions and prejudices. Stating, as we did in Chapters 6 and
7, that the psychological, physiological or social effects of marijuana use are
by all indications relatively benign says nothing about the therapeutic benefits
of the plant in the same way that medical uses of the poppy say nothing about
the individual or social harm that can be caused by heroin. Dr. Kalant echoed
separation of the control methods between medical and non-medical use is
generally clearly understood. Both heroin and cocaine have limited but
recognized medical uses. […] Yet, nobody argues that, because these drugs have
some limited medical use, that they should therefore be legalized for
non-medical use. […] Cannabis is perhaps the one exception in which possible
medical uses are often claimed by some proponents of legalization of cannabis as
a justification for legalization for non-medical use. This to me seems quite
irrational. There is no logical reason why having a medical use should be any
argument at all, either for or against, availability for non-medical use. 
as Dr. Ware reiterated, “the safety of
cannabis in humans has been extensively studied, thanks in part to the massive
Western cohort of ‘healthy human volunteers’ of the last 40 years.
Cannabis may have undergone the most extensive and unorthodox Phase I clinical
trials of any drug in history.”
While it is true that research protocols to allow medical use of a substance are
and must remain rigorous, there is no clear boundary between the two areas of
research. This was illustrated to some extent in the review in Chapter 7 of
studies on the effects and consequences of marijuana. Indeed, the opposite
approach struck us as more common, where, based on the presumed harmful effects
of marijuana on psychological and physical health, the therapeutic usefulness of
marijuana becomes at least suspect. We take as an example the position of the
Canadian Medical Association.
his testimony before the Commission, current CMA president Dr. Henry Haddad
our understanding of all the possible long-term health effects that prolong
Canada's use is still evolving, what we do know is troubling. The health risks
range from acute effects such as anxiety, dysphoria, or the feeling of being
ill; cognitive impairment to the chronic effects such as bronchitis, emphysema
and cancer. Canada's youth have also been subject to pulmonary damage comparable
to that produced by tobacco use but the effects are much more acute and rapid.
Evidence suggests that smoking two or three cannabis cigarettes a day has the
same health effect as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Therefore, the potential
long-term health effects of cannabis use could be quite severe.
CMA's concerns regarding the impact of cannabis are in part why we are opposed
to the federal government's current medical marijuana access regulations. In our
May 7, 2001, letter to the Minister of Health, the CMA noted ‘lack of credible
information on the risks and benefits of medical marijuana.’
discussions on the government's medical marijuana regulations, we highlighted
the health concerns and research that indicates that “marijuana is an
addictive substance that is known to have psychoactive effects and in its smoke
form is particularly harmful to health.''
have concluded that while benefits of medical marijuana are unknown, the health
risks are real. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for physicians to prescribe
marijuana to their patients, a position that was supported by the Canadian
CMA is concerned that this debate concerning decriminalization and the medical
marijuana issue has, to some extent, legitimized its use for recreational
purposes. It is important that our message to you regarding decriminalization be
clear and understood. Decriminalization must be tied to a national drug strategy
that promotes awareness and prevention and provides for comprehensive treatment
in addition to research and monitoring of the program.
CMA believes that any changes regarding illegal drug policy should be gradual.
Like any other public health issue, education and awareness of the potential
harms associated with cannabis and other illegal drug use is critical to
reducing drug usage. 
were to succeed in showing that the effects are not as bad as had been thought,
would it change in any way the issues related to medical use of marijuana? The
acute effects identified by the CMA are possible but relatively rare and often
the product of personal predispositions, context or a particular crop of
marijuana. In fact, the primary acute reactions, the reactions documented by
most of the research, are pleasant and help the user relax. If we were to
convince the medical association that marijuana is not particularly addictive
and that even where it is, the effects are relatively benign, would that clear
the way for medical use of marijuana? Aside from the fact that marijuana is only
tenuously linked to “drug addiction”, there is by no means consensus in the
scientific community on the very notion of drug addiction, viewed primarily as a
question lies elsewhere – in two places, in fact. First, knowledge of the
potentially harmful effects of marijuana says nothing about the qualities of the
plant as a medicine. To be sure, knowledge of the secondary effects of drugs,
including their addictive potential, is essential to the pharmacopoeia. However,
those substances must first be established as drugs, particularly in terms of
effectiveness and reliability. Second, the whole issue is broached as if
resistance to medical use of marijuana were based not so much on the absence of
medical knowledge per se – which is
the case to some extent, as we will see later in this chapter – as on the link
between marijuana and drug addiction. From that perspective, the issue is
quickly resolved: in keeping with the medical maxim “first do no harm”, a physician will not prescribe a treatment
the effects of which could lead to an illness at least as serious as the illness
being treated in the first place. If marijuana is listed as an illegal drug,
banned in some contexts because of its harmful effects and capable of leading to
drug addiction, what compelling arguments could be put forward to “save”
of that should matter to physicians or scientists. It is not a question of
defending general public policy on marijuana or even all illegal drugs. It is
not a question of sending a symbolic message about “drugs”. It is not a
question of being afraid that young people will use marijuana if it is approved
as a medicine. The question – the only question – for physicians is whether,
to what extent and in what circumstances, marijuana serves a therapeutic
purpose. Physicians would have to determine whether people with certain diseases
would benefit from marijuana use and weigh the side effects against the
benefits. If they decide the patient should use marijuana, they then have to
consider how he or she might get it. The issue of deciding whether cannabis has
therapeutic benefits is obviously clouded by the current legal context on
cannabis. This may be inevitable, but those who take public positions on
cannabis for therapeutic purposes should say so.
of this chapter is devoted to the history of the use of marijuana for
therapeutic purposes and the status of contemporary knowledge of marijuana and
synthetic cannabinoids. We then give a brief account of compassion clubs and
other organizations that supply marijuana for therapeutic use, as well as
various public policy regimes. We conclude with our views on medical use of
marijuana. In a later chapter, we discuss which public policy regime would be
most appropriate given the status of medical use of marijuana.
therapeutic potential of marijuana has apparently been known since the beginning
of recorded history. In fact, marijuana was likely used for medicinal purposes
even before its psychoactive properties were tapped.
medical history of marijuana is closely related to its analgesic properties, as
noted by Ethan Russo:
has a history as an analgesic agent that spans at least 4000 years, including a
century in mainstream Western medicine. […] The reasons lie in the remarkable
pharmacological properties of the herb and new scientific research reveals the
inextricable link that cannabinoids possess with our own internal biochemistry.
In essence, the cannabinoids form a system in parallel with that of the
endogenous opioids in modulating pain. More important, cannabis and its
endogenous synthetic counterparts may be uniquely effective in pain syndromes in
which opiates and other analgesics fail.
to Russo, written documents and ethnographic traces of medical use of marijuana
have been found in many countries. In China, a second-century medical paper
reported that marijuana was used as a surgical anaesthetic. In India, marijuana
was been used to treat migraines and chronic pain 2000 B.C. In Egypt, where most
scholars thought that marijuana had not been introduced, there is evidence that
it had been in use in medicine since the days of the pharaohs; traces of
marijuana were found in the tombs of Amenophis IV and Ramses II. Marijuana was
apparently used to treat glaucoma and labour pain. Marijuana was administered
orally, rectally or vaginally, applied to the skin, inserted in the eyes and
Assyria, Babylonia and Arcadia, marijuana was apparently used as an analgesic to
treat migraines and menstrual pain and for its psychoactive properties. Evidence
of marijuana use to control labour pain has also been found in Palestine and
Israel. The Greeks and Romans used marijuana for general pain control and
specifically for gout and rheumatism. In the Muslim world, there are references
to therapeutic use dating back to the ninth century.
mid 17th century, western medicine discovered the medicinal
properties of marijuana. A compendium of plants published in 1640 in England
made reference to marijuana being used in the form of a paste containing essence
from the plant and other ingredients. In France, the work on hemp published by
Mercandier described a number of uses: dried and applied as a plaster, it eased
the pain associated with tumours; boiled and applied as a plaster, it helped
ease the pain of rheumatism, gout and various muscle inflammations; crushed into
a powder and mixed with butter, it soothed burns. In his classification of
plants, Linnée recognized the medicinal properties of marijuana as a pain
use of marijuana became more widespread in England in the middle of the 19th
century when the plant was brought back from India. Even the personal physician
of Queen Victoria, Russell Reynolds, used it: he treated his celebrated patient
for dysmenorrhea throughout her adult life using cannabis extract. In an 1868
paper, he wrote that unlike opiates, marijuana could be used today without
causing problems tomorrow.
1890 and 1940, English, Irish, French and then American physicians and
pharmacists testified in different ways to the usefulness of various marijuana
preparations in relieving pain. One British pharmacologist even reintroduced the
smoking of marijuana in 1899, pointing out that smoking was particularly useful
if an immediate effect was desired.
is still part of the pharmacopoeia, at least informally, of many countries in
southeast Asia. Marijuana use in India was recently described as follows:
is the resinous exudation that collects on the leaves and flowering tops of
plants (equivalent to the Arabic hashish); it is the active principle of hemp;
it is a valuable narcotic, especially in cases where opium cannot be
administered it is of great value in malarial and periodical headaches,
migraine, acute mania, whooping cough, cough of phtisis, asthma, anaemia of
brain, nervous vomiting, tetanos, convulsion, insanity, delirium, dysuria, and
nervous exhaustion; it is also used as an anaesthetic in dysmennorhea, as an
appetizer and aphrodisiac, as an anodyne in itching of eczema, neuralgia, severe
pains of various kinds of corns, etc. 
also used in Colombia, Jamaica and Brazil.
tempting, of course, enamoured as we are with our modern science, to dismiss
these traditional uses as “home remedies” – and the stuff of quacks.
However, the fact that marijuana has been used so long for the same types of
condition, that it has sometimes been described so accurately, that it has
transcended cultures and histories, and that modern medicine suggests that
marijuana could in fact be useful in treating the chronic pain associated with
various medical conditions should stop us from being too cynical about these
questions strike us relevant here. The first is whether marijuana in fact has
the therapeutic effects that have been ascribed to it traditionally and more
recently in the personal stories of people suffering from chronic pain and other
conditions. If those benefits are real, the second question, altogether
different and based on different criteria, is whether marijuana should be
considered a drug.
of the mechanics of cannabinoids and the endogenous cannabinoid system allows a
number of observations to be made. Generally, and bearing in mind what was
written in Chapter 5, the action of cannabinoids can be described as follows:
overall effect is that of a cellular inhibition rather than cellular activation.
It settles down nerve firing through a number of different types of reactions,
primarily through changes that lead to changes in the flow of ion channels,
which changes the firing behaviour of the cell which then changes how it
communicates with other cells down the line.
of potassium channels with decreased cell firing and closing of calcium channels
with decreased release of neurotransmitters or overall cellular inhibition,
which quiets things down. Those could have major therapeutic implications in
certain clinical situations, such as pain and spasticity. They have implications
in settling down nerve firing within pain conducting systems. 
specifically, cannabinoids act on various neurophysiological systems associated
with pain, either alone or in combination with the endogenous opiate system.
Cannabinoids affect the release of serotonin, which is itself associated with
different types of pain, migraines in particular. Anandamide and other
cannabinoid antagonists block the release of serotonin and ketanserin, both of
which are linked to migraines, suggesting the potential effect of THC.
Cannabinoids are also related to the dopamine system, which has been linked with
migraines and other types of pain. Further, cannabinoids inhibit prostaglandin,
producing an anti-inflammatory effect. Some studies have shown that THC is in
that sense a more powerful analgesic than aspirin or even cortisone. Interacting
with the endogenous opioid systems, cannabinoids increase the production of
beta-endorphins, which reduce the effect of migraines. According to some
studies, THC may have greater therapeutic potential than morphine, either
because the applications would be more specific in some cases, because in other
cases morphine aggravates some symptoms, or because THC lacks the sedative
properties of morphine. Moreover, THC may have an antinociceptive effect on the
periaqueductal grey. Finally, THC acts as a glutamate blocker and thereby
reduces muscle and inflammatory pain.
researchers Nicolodi, Sicuteri and colleagues have recently elucidated the role
of NMDA antagonists in eliminating hyperalgesia in migraine, chronic daily
headaches, fibromyalgia, and possibly other mechanisms of chronic pain.
Gabapentin and ketamine were suggested as tools to block this system and provide
amelioration. Given the above observations and relationships, it is logical that
prolonged use of THC prophylactically may exert similar benefits, as was
espoused in cures of chronic daily headache in the 19th century with
regular use of extract of Indian hemp. 
real terms, these mechanisms mean that cannabinoids can be beneficial in a
number of situations that involve pain, but not pain alone The following are
foremost among them.
Nausea is a common condition in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. As a
result of a series of clinical trials involving people who reported using
marijuana to relieve their vomiting, synthetic dranobinol (or Marinol) and
nabilone (or Cesamet) were developed and tested primarily in the United States
and Great Britain beginning in the 1970s. According to Dr. Lynch, “cannabinoids are thought to be modest antiemetics. There are more
effective antiemetic agents available. However, because antiemetics work through
a number of different mechanisms and because often we need to be able to target
more than one mechanism to treat nausea and vomiting, cannabinoids are looking
like they may be useful because they may offer us another option.”
A significant number of people with AIDS/HIV suffer progressive anorexia coupled
with weight loss. Some studies show that cannabinoids can help improve their
situation, mainly because THC increases appetite. Some reservations have been
voiced regarding the harmful effects of smoked THC on the immune system: “More recently, Nieman et al (1993) have shown that cigarette smoking
by HIV seropositive individuals is associated with a more rapid development of
AIDS because smoking increases the incidence of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia
Others, however, have come to different conclusions: “A particular public health concern surrounds cannabis effects on
HIV/AIDS. Four studies among others may reduce related concern. Kaslow et al. (1989) demonstrated no
evidence that cannabis accelerated immunodeficiency parameters in
HIV‑positive patients. DiFranco
et al. (1996)
ascertained no acceleration of HIV to full‑blown AIDS in cannabis smokers.
Whitfield, Bechtel and Starich (1997) observed no deleterious effects of
cannabis usage in HIV/AIDS patients, even those with the lowest CD4 counts.
Finally, Abrams et al. (2000) studied the effects of cannabis smoking on
HIV‑positive patients on protease inhibitor drugs in a prospective
randomized, partially blinded placebo-controlled trial. No adverse effects on
CD4 counts were observed secondary to cannabis.”
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which intraocular pressure builds because the
fluid in the eye has difficulty draining and which leads to gradual destruction
of the ocular nerves. Marijuana, in particular paste made from cannabis leaves,
has been used to reduce intraocular pressure since ancient times, as we saw in
the previous section. Recent studies suggest that marijuana – including smoked
marijuana – helps reduce the effects of glaucoma. However, there have been
some reservations because of some of the side effects of smoking marijuana
(redness and drying of the eyes). In a case study by Russo et al. on four patients who smoked marijuana, one patient with
glaucoma stated in court that the marijuana saved her sight.
The anticonvulsive properties of marijuana that help control epileptic seizures
and the antispasm properties that are useful in treating multiple sclerosis are
well known in Canada; marijuana use for epilepsy gave rise to the Ontario Court
of Appeal decision in Parker. Smoked marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids
appears to be effective in controlling these conditions. However, because of the
bioavailability of synthetic compounds (between 20% and 30%) and their delayed
effect relative to smoked marijuana, patients seem to prefer smoking.
The analgesic effects of marijuana in easing different types of pain have also
been known since ancient times. We described the analgesic effect of marijuana
above. More importantly, marijuana has specific effects on some types of pain
that opiates do not.
for a product to be recognized as a drug in the pharmacopoeia, it must meet at
least three criteria:
the dosage must be determined based on a constant and known composition that is
easy to administer to the patient;
rigorous clinical trials must have demonstrated the effectiveness of the drug;
studies must show the known and foreseeable side effects of the drug.
of the lack of rigorous clinical studies using recognized protocols, whole
marijuana has not yet met these criteria. There are a number of reasons for
this. First, the research protocols needed to test drugs involve double-blind
tests with control groups and randomly selected subjects, all conditions that
are hard to achieve with marijuana. Second, the current legal climate limits the
potential for such studies in terms of both the availability of marijuana and
test conditions. Third, the marijuana provided by the National Institute of Drug
Abuse (NIDA) for medical research – including research conducted by Health
Canada – is of dubious quality:
THC concentration may be a determining factor in the quality of the therapeutic
effects, yet NIDA marijuana contains only 1.8% to 5% THC. Moreover, weaker
marijuana requires more draws and releases more CO than marijuana with a higher
THC content. Other cannabinoids are not measured, yet they are known to also
have a bearing on the medical properties of marijuana. The paper in which the
marijuana is rolled is of poor quality. The marijuana is often more than two
years old and may not have been stored under conditions that would preserve all
its qualities. Finally, the marijuana contains many seeds and other plant
debris. Fourth, it is difficult to control the amount of marijuana actually
absorbed by the subjects: the way a person draws on the cigarette, whether or
not the person is accustomed to smoking, the subject’s preferences and the
length of time the subject inhales are factors which can affect the test
conditions and which researchers have not yet been able to measure accurately.
also be possible to answer the following and other questions:
a difference between synthetic cannabinoids and whole marijuana?
the optimum marijuana profile in a given situation?
different doses and different forms of ingestion produce significantly different
recent years, analyses of the scientific literature have been conducted by the
Institute of Medicine in the United States and the British Medical Society and
in various government reports in England, the Netherlands and elsewhere. The
Institute of Medicine concluded that there is evidence of the therapeutic
potential of marijuana as an analgesic, antiemetic and appetite stimulant. It
noted, however, that smoking is a difficult way to control the ingestion of
marijuana and also has side effects related specifically to its carcinogenic
potential and the link with respiratory diseases. The institute also found that
the psychoactive effects of marijuana are sometimes, but not always, beneficial
for some patients. Finally, the institute pointed out that smoking marijuana
should not be recommended over the long term because of the potential mental
effects, but could be prescribed for persons with terminal or degenerative
diseases, where long-term considerations are secondary. In the Netherlands, the
National Health Council issued a notice in 1995 stating that scientific evidence
on medical use of marijuana was insufficient because of poor research and
uncertainty as to the properties of smoked marijuana. The council also noted
that marijuana could have therapeutic applications in the following areas:
nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy, appetite stimulation for people
with AIDS or cancer, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. In 2001, the Netherlands
created a medical marijuana bureau in the ministry of health and began clinical
studies. In England, the House of Lords has taken a position similar to that of
the Institute of Medicine in the United States, and the Ministry of Health is
currently conducting at least one clinical study.
not enough is known about marijuana to
establish it as a drug in the strict sense of the word, and we only have partial
knowledge of cannabinoids. Most cannabinoids are a single cannabinoid
compound, whereas marijuana contains many substances the effects of which
interact to produce the therapeutic effects. Yet researchers have still not
specifically identified the role of the various cannabinoids. Patients who use
synthetic dronabinol or nabilone-based compounds generally report not feeling
the same beneficial effects as when they smoke marijuana. It may take longer for
the effects to be felt, and the effects may be less specific. Further, isolating
only one of the components of marijuana could, according to some studies,
increase the risk of panic attacks and even marijuana-induced psychosis.
significant benefit of whole marijuana is that it can be delivered in smoked
format, with a rapid onset of action and a tritable effect by the patient. […]
In practice, both patients and oncologists report that smoked marijuana is
somewhat more effective than and as safe as the legally available oral
cannabinoids. Another major difference between marijuana and THC, besides the
availability of a smokeable, titratable delivery system with whole marijuana, is
that 9-THC alone can produce the relatively common effects of anxiety disorder
and panic attack. […] The adverse effects can also occur with marijuana use,
but are felt to be diminished by the presence of cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive
compound with antipsychotic properties. 
the cost of synthetic compounds, which is much higher, has to be taken into
advantages of smoked marijuana are that patients can determine the necessary
dose on their own and feel the effects more quickly, while limiting the adverse
side effects other than the effect on the respiratory system. It should be noted
in passing the importance of self-regulation by patients: most of the clinical
cases reported and most of the testimony from compassion club representatives
agree that patients prefer to use marijuana with a higher THC content than
recreational marijuana but only ingest the quantity they need to achieve the
calming effects. However, the problems related to specific knowledge of the
effectiveness and quality of marijuana limit the ability of physicians to
prescribe the appropriate dose. More advanced knowledge of smoked marijuana
pertains to the degree of safety, although there is variation in interpretation
of the data. We generally concur in the finding of Professor Scholten:
use for medicinal reasons by patients with a somatic disease is relatively safe,
on condition that it is not smoked; when smoked it has the same carcinogenic
potential as tobacco. The alternatives are oral administration or inhalation
using a vaporiser.
acute toxicity of cannabis is very low; it is almost impossible to die of an
overdose (users would have to eat or smoke their own weight in fresh cannabis,
or 7,500 grams of dried cannabis to achieve this). The principal side effects in
therapeutic use are psychosis and euphoria. Little is known about this drug’s
addictive effect in medical use, though experience with the use of morphine for
pain relief has shown that the risk of psychological addiction is low – much
lower than when used as a stimulant. As the addictive effect of cannabis is also
quite low when used as a stimulant, it may be assumed that this will always be
very low in a medical setting.
estimating the chronic toxicity of cannabis, it should be borne in mind that the
doses used in therapeutic applications will probably be lower than those used
for "recreational" purposes, decreasing the risks of side effects. 
this mean that medical use of marijuana, smoking in particular, should be
discouraged or even banned? The last section addresses this question.
reservations about therapeutic use relate to the lack of comprehensive knowledge
based on controlled medical studies and also to the long-term impact on the
respiratory system and carcinogenic potential. In some cases, reservations have
been expressed regarding the psychoactive properties of marijuana. There is a
growing consensus on the therapeutic potential of marijuana, particularly smoked
marijuana. While marijuana cannot, strictly speaking, be considered a drug, at
least for the time being, it still has therapeutic properties. How then do we
classify and regulate it?
the United States and many other countries have developed a parallel practice of
allowing people with certain conditions to use marijuana. The most familiar
example in Canada is without question the Vancouver Compassion Club.
mission statement, the club advocates a holistic approach to health. It not only
supplies marijuana, but also delivers other forms of natural medicine (herbal
therapy, acupuncture, massage, etc.). The club is built on the values of
compassion, emancipation and complementarity between approaches.
six years since the Compassion Club was founded, an intimate knowledge of the
therapeutic effects of marijuana has been acquired. The club offers a daily menu
comprising seven to ten varieties of marijuana, one or two varieties of hashish,
cannabis tincture, and baked goods containing marijuana. It sells marijuana for
$3 to $10 a gram, depending on the variety. It currently serves more than 2,000
members have a huge range of symptoms and conditions such as HIV and AIDS,
cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, chronic pain, fybromyalgia, seizure
disorders, glaucoma, hepatitis C, anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating
disorders and many others. […]
is important that medicinal users have access to a variety of strains, as the
effect of cannabis varies depending on which strain is being used and the method
of ingestion. Our members are made aware of the differences and can then select
the best strain of cannabis to most effectively treat their symptoms.
and sativa are the two main varieties of the cannabis plant used as medicine.
Many strains are crosses of those two varieties. Within each of those varieties
and crosses there are a huge number of individual strains, each with a different
cannabinoid profile and effect.
to the anecdotal evidence, the indica strains are a relaxant, effective for
anxiety, pain, nausea, appetite stimulation, sleep, muscle spasms and tremors,
among other symptoms. The sativa strains are more of a stimulant, effective in
appetite stimulation, relieving depression, migraines, pain and nausea. We are
now aware of specific strains that are effective for specific conditions and
symptoms. Members keep track of their use in order to find the most effective
strain for themselves. We also keep close records monitoring members' purchases
in order to assist members to track their own consumption and for us to prevent
reselling and to encourage responsible use. 
read that testimony and the documents given to us by the club, visited the
club’s premises and examined its records, and heard the testimony of other
people who work for similar organizations in Montreal and Toronto, we can safely
say that there are links between this therapeutic practice and the data produced
by research on medical uses of marijuana.
observe that this organization, like others that provide a similar service in
Canada, keeps detailed records of their clients and their marijuana use; these
records allow treatment to be monitored, but could also be excellent material
for empirical research. We can only
lament the fact that Health Canada has not undertaken clinical research in
cooperation with this organization. We share the reservations voiced by
Hilary Black regarding the traditional protocols used in research on therapeutic
use of marijuana:
created a research proposal with a team of research scientists from Vancouver.
However, we were turned down because we refuse to facilitate a study using a
placebo or low-quality, low-potency cannabis imported from the US National
Institute on Drug Abuse. Any study attempting to prove the efficacy of cannabis
as a medicine using such a low-potency herb, or unknown strains such as those
currently being grown in Canada by Plant Prairie Systems, is destined to fail.
There is no need to import cannabis for research, considering the high quality
and huge quantity of cannabis being produced in Canada. The information we could
gather is being requested by doctors, patients, pharmaceutical companies, Plant
Prairie Systems and Health Canada, yet we are not financially empowered to
facilitate this research. 
will deny that research on therapeutic uses of marijuana, whether smoked or
synthetic, must continue in an effort to further clarify the key elements of
quality, effectiveness and safety. Everyone agrees that we should learn more
about the strains and doses appropriate to various conditions. For all that, do
we have to think of marijuana as a drug like the other drugs listed in the
pharmacopoeia? Do we have to have the same requirements as those applicable to
prescribed drugs, or should we relax the rules to view marijuana a natural
health product? Were it not for the legal system and the international
conventions governing marijuana, would the plant not be considered more a
natural health product like other plants and herbs?
the issue in those terms forces us to think differently about the therapeutic
use of marijuana. If the aim is to make it a approved therapeutic product, the
reservations of the medical profession, or at least of some representatives of
the profession, are understandable: they cannot endorse the approach until the
proper controlled studies are carried out so that physicians can prescribe
marijuana as confidently as they prescribe other approved therapeutic products.
If marijuana is recognized as having therapeutic uses in some cases – at least
as proven as any other plant used in homeopathy or herbal therapy – the aim is
instead to give it the same status as other natural health products.
Committee is of the opinion that the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana
have been sufficiently documented to
permit its use for therapeutic purposes. It should be acknowledged that
smoking marijuana can have harmful side effects, particularly for the
respiratory system, and users should be informed accordingly. It should also be
acknowledged that research is needed to further clarify the specific field of
marijuana use and the long-term effects of marijuana.
of Chapter 9
Marijuana as a drug
Marijuana and synthetic
clear, though non-definitive indications of the therapeutic benefits of
marijuana in the following conditions: analgesic for chronic pain,
antispasm for multiple sclerosis, anticonvulsive for epilepsy, antiemetic
for chemotherapy and appetite stimulant for cachexia.
less clear indications regarding the effect of marijuana on glaucoma and
other medical conditions.
has not been established as a drug through rigorous, controlled studies.
quality and effectiveness of marijuana, primarily smoked marijuana, have
not been determined in clinical studies.
have been some studies of synthetic compounds, but the knowledge base is
still too small to determine effectiveness and safety.
the effects of smoked marijuana are more specific and occur faster than
the effects of synthetic compounds.
absence of certain cannabinoids in synthetic compounds can lead to harmful
side effects, such as panic attacks and cannabinoid psychoses.
marijuana is potentially harmful to the respiratory system.
who smoke marijuana for therapeutic purposes self-regulate their use
depending on their physical condition and do not really seek the
who smoke marijuana for therapeutic purposes prefer to have a choice as to
methods of use.
should be taken to support and encourage the development of alternative
practices, such as the establishment of compassion clubs.
practices of these organizations are in line with the therapeutic
indications arising from clinical studies and meet the strict rules on
quality and safety
studies that have already been approved by Health Canada must be conducted
as quickly as possible.
qualities of the marijuana used in those studies must meet the standards
of current practice in compassion clubs, not NIDA standards.
studies should focus on applications and the specific doses for various
Canada should, at the earliest possible opportunity, undertake a clinical
study in cooperation with Canadian compassion clubs.
International Conference on
Medicinal Cannabis, November 22-23, 2001, The Hague, Netherlands.
Joy, J.E., S.J. Watson and J.A. Benson (1999) (eds.), Marijuana
and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. Washington, D.C.: National
DuPont, R.L. (1999), “Examining the Debate on the Use of Medical
Marijuana”, Proceedings of the
Association of American Physicians, Volume 111, No. 2, page 169.
Rosenthal, M.S., and H.D. Kleber (1999), “Making Sense of Medical
Marijuana”, Proceedings of the
Association of American Physicians, Volume 111, No. 2, page 159.
Dr. Mark Ware, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Anesthesia,
McGill University, testimony before the Special Senate Committee on Illegal
Drugs, Senate of Canada, May 31, 2002.
See in particular the study by W.B. McAllistair, Drug Diplomacy in the 20th Century. This point will be
discussed later in chapter 19.
Dr. Harold Kalant, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto,
testimony before the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of
Canada, first session of the thirty-seventh Parliament, June 11, 2001, Issue
4, pages 70-71.
Dr. Henry Haddad, President, Canadian Medical Association, testimony
before the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada,
first session of the thirty-seventh Parliament, March 11, 2002,
Issue 14, pages 52-53 and 54-55.
Russo, E.B. (2002), “The role of cannabis and cannabinoids in pain
management”, in Weiner, R.S. (ed.), Pain
Management. A Practical Guide for Clinicians, Boca Raton, London, New
York, Washington: CRC Press.
Dr. Mary Lynch, Director, Canadian Consortium for the Investigation
of Cannabinoids, Professor, Dalhousie University, testimony before the
Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, first session
of the thirty-seventh Parliament, June 11, 2001, Issue 4, page 49.
The following information is taken primarily from Russo, op.
cit., Hartel, C.R., “Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis and Cannabinoids”,
in Kalant, H. (ed.), The Health Effects of Cannabis, Toronto: Addiction Research
Foundation, and INSERM (2001), op.
Russo, E.B., et al. (2002),
“Chronic cannabis use in the compassionate investigational new drug
program: An examination of benefits and adverse effects of legal clinical
cannabis”, Journal of Cannabis
Therapeutics, Vol. 2, No. 1, page 45.
Russo, op.cit, discusses
these weaknesses in greater detail.
Gurley, R.J., R. Aronow and M. Katz (1998), “Medicinal marijuana: A
comprehensive review”, Journal of
Psychoactive Drugs. Vol. 30, No. 2, page 139.
Scholten, W.K. (2002), “Medicinal cannabis: A quick scan on the
therapeutic use of cannabis”, in Pelc, I. (ed.), International Scientific Conference on Cannabis, Brussels.
Black, Director, Vancouver Compassion Club, testimony before the Special
Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, first session of the
thirty-seventh Parliament, November 7, 2001, Issue 10, page 36.
of our main objectives throughout our study was to get Canadians involved. We
wanted people to share their opinions, experiences and fears regarding
marijuana. We also wanted to provide access to the information we held so as to
contribute, within our modest means, to better knowledge of the realities of
marijuana, if only to raise the level of public debate. At the start of each
public hearing the Committee Chair stated:
second thrust is the sharing of knowledge. This is definitely our most noble
objective. The committee wants all Canadians to become informed and share the
information we collect. Our challenge will be to plan and organize a system to
ensure that the knowledge is available and distributed. We would also like to
hear what people think about this knowledge. In order to do this, in the spring
of 2002, we will be holding public hearings in various parts of Canada.
indeed a major challenge. It is one thing to passively make available such
information as proceedings of our hearings and our commissioned research
reports. It is another thing to actively disseminate that information widely,
having the means to do so. And it is another thing again to take the pulse of
convey the information to Canadians, we chose to make full use of our Internet
site, posting all of our documents as they were ready. To boost circulation, we
used two main tools. The first was a conventional tool: the media. We worked to
get as much media coverage as possible in order to promote our work or simply
let people know the Committee existed. With the same goal in mind, some members
of the Committee took part in conferences, round table discussions and open-line
shows. The second tool, one we considered essential in promoting our work, was
the discussion paper we released in May 2002. The paper laid out some of our
preliminary research findings on eight key issues, put forward a number of
public policy options and proposed questions for the public hearings. The main
aims of the paper were to convey our knowledge and generate public interest. A
third objective was to provide a backdrop for the public hearings we held
throughout the country in May and June 2002.
time will tell whether and to what extent we were successful in promoting our
work and, more importantly, in increasing public knowledge of marijuana. We did
not have the financial means to conduct a far-reaching public information
campaign or an opinion poll before and after the release of the discussion paper
to determine whether we had any impact on Canadians.
much harder to gauge the public’s opinions, attitudes and concerns. The
traditional method of surveying a representative sample of the population was
too expensive. Surveys also have limits, which we will discuss in more detail
later. However, we did commission a qualitative study using focus groups, the
results of which will be presented in this chapter. We will also report the
results of other surveys that came to our attention. As well, many Canadians
wrote to us or sent us e-mails, and some came out to our public hearings. We
obviously cannot draw any conclusions from this: the only people who wrote to us
were probably people to whom the issue is very important, regardless of which
way they lean. Some will be cited but we reiterate that nothing is to be drawn
from these opinions in terms of representativeness.
account of Canadians’ opinions on and attitudes toward drugs in general would
be complete without an examination of the role of the media in shaping those
opinions and attitudes. In recent years, as a result of this Committee’s work
and other initiatives, various Canadian newspapers and magazines have run
stories or written editorials on the issue. These will be the focus of the first
part of the chapter. The next part presents the results of surveys and polls,
including the survey we commissioned and surveys conducted in different
provinces. The last part covers our understanding of what Canadians told us.
start of the century, the media played a key role in creating a moral
“panic” over illegal drugs. First it was the “Yellow Peril” and the
opium crisis in the early 20th century, primarily in Vancouver.
[…] tolerance for the habit
of smoking opium lasted only as long as British Columbia’s tolerance for the
Chinese. In the early years of the twentieth century, both a labour surplus and
anti-Asian resentment developed […] If you look at the Vancouver Province,
virtually any front page in the first five years of the 20th century,
there are racist cartoons warning about the yellow peril, about how British
Columbia is going to be swallowed up by the Chinese, and about another boatload
The following appeared in Canadian
Magazine in 1900:
It was quite evident he (the
Chinese servant) had had his share and a night of it, for there are Chinese dens
in Vancouver where opium is smoked and unspeakable infamies are practised, and
no matter how meek and mild your Chinaman may look, no matter how gentle his
voice or confiding his manner, Saturday night is almost certain to find him
‘doped’ in his bunk, weaving dreams under the poppy’s subtle spell. 
was the cocaine plague in Montreal as described by the following article in the
Montreal Witness in 1910:
This curse of cocaine […]
has existed for a short time in the city. It is a real evil. It is a social
plague, and it goes on spreading so fearfully that it is time for society to
take marked notice. Alcoholism and morphia are nothing to cocaine. It is the
agent for the seduction of our daughters and the demoralization of our young
men. […] Those who know what cocaine is and what its evils are, are those who
can hurt society most. 
vision of the decay and degeneration of the working class and, more broadly,
Anglo-British and Christian civilization, would subsequently be picked up by
temperance movements. A key figure in women’s history in Canada, Emily Murphy,
would play a leading role in the 1920s in articulating this apocalyptic vision.
Murphy, a writer and journalist, was president of the Canadian Women’s Press
Club (1913-1920), the founding president of the Federated Women’s Institute
and a member of the National Council of Women of Canada before becoming a judge
in Alberta. She also fought to have women’s rights recognized in the Canadian
constitution. She was a tireless fighter in the war on drugs. In a series of
articles published in MacLean’s
magazine in 1920, she attacked the “plague” of drugs.
[…] whatever form these
drugs are taken, they degrade the morals and enfeeble the will. No matter what
their status has been, inveterate users of drugs become degraded. All are liars:
nearly all become dishonest. Being deprived of the drug, they will go any length
to get it, even to thievery and prostitution. While sober they are
uncomfortable, and prolonged abstemiousness hurts them like nails driven into
the flesh. 
in her book The Black Candle, she also
attacked marijuana, which she described as follows:
Persons using this narcotic
smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them
completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts
to this drug, while under its influence, are immune to pain, and could severely
injured without having any realization of their condition. While in this
condition they become raving maniacs and liable to kill or indulge in any form
of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty without,
as said before, any sense of moral responsibility. When coming under the
influence of this narcotic, these victims present the most horrible condition
imaginable. They are dispossessed of their natural and normal will power and
their mental is that of idiots. If the drug is indulged in any great extent, it
ends in the untimely death of the addict. 
the verbal impact of these articles and racism toward Asians, there is some
similarity between the messages being conveyed at that time and some
contemporary messages about drugs: drugs attack the moral roots of society, the
family in particular. They put young people at risk and cause crime and
violence. Dealers are everywhere, especially around schools, ready to do
whatever it takes to expand their client base. And drugs, by definition, lead to
does not mean, of course, that the newspaper articles were the main reason why
drugs were criminalized. Nor does it mean that people ultimately believed what
was written. Still, analysts of the evolution of drug laws in Canada agree that
the media played an important role in shaping Canadian drug legislation.
Canadian media stand on drugs today? We did not analyse all the press coverage
of drugs in Canada, although the exercise would probably have been interesting
in sociological terms in identifying key notions and seeing just how public
opinion is shaped. All we do here is examine two main types of media article.
The first is news related to criminality, the second, feature stories and
stories on illegal drugs usually focus on police operations: raids, seizures,
dealer arrests and dismantling of organized crime rings. The best-known modern
example was surely the 2001 arrest in Quebec of more than 70 Hells Angels
members known to be involved in narcotics trafficking and other illegal
activities. And then there are seizures, month after month, of kilograms –
even hundreds of kilograms – of drugs, more and more often marijuana.
not know how this information helps shape public opinion on drugs or what impact
it has on the public’s demands concerning drugs. However, these articles
probably give people the impression that the “drug problem” is first and
foremost an organized crime problem. But while there may have been an impression
until the mid 1980s, shall we say, that marijuana was a problem exported into
Canada from other countries, the growing number of articles on raids of domestic
producers – as opposed to shipments from overseas – is giving more and more
people cause to think of marijuana as a home-grown problem.
news stories focus on the relationship between drugs and crime, especially
prostitution, residential break-ins, and “incivilities” experienced by
street youth and the homeless. Some of these activities are at least in part
associated with drugs. For prostitution, it is the fact that people, mostly
women, are forced to work as street prostitutes in order to support their habit.
Residential break-ins are also tied to supporting drug habits, although the
perpetrators are different: most break-ins are committed by young men. For
street youth, the main problem is intravenous drug use and the risk of spreading
AIDS. None of this is directly related to marijuana. Except for schools.
Virtually every big city in Canada – and every not-so-big city, too, for that
matter – has seen some kind of police operation in schools. School raids
usually elicit two types of reaction, both rooted in indignation: people are
indignant when they learn that drugs are so much a part of the school
environment while others think the police are abusing their authority and
failing to respect young people’s rights.
years ago, there were a number of feature reports in newspapers and the
electronic media. The series written by journalist Dan Gardner of the Ottawa
Citizen in 2000, which was picked up by most of the newspapers in the
Southam chain, is surely the best-known example. In his 10-article series,
Gardner explained why the “war on drugs” is a patent failure. He began his
series as follows:
Sam’s global campaign to end drug abuse has empowered criminals, corrupted
governments and eroded liberty, but still there are more drug addicts than ever
before. On June 6, 1998, a surprising letter was delivered to Kofi Annan,
secretary general of the United Nations. ‘We believe’ the letter declared,
‘that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself.
The letter was signed by statesmen, politicians, academics and other public
figures. Former UN
secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar signed. So
did George Shultz, the former American secretary of state, and Joycelyn Elders,
the former American Surgeon General. Nobel laureates such as Milton Friedman and
Argentina’s Adolfo Perez Esquivel added their names. Four former presidents
and seven former cabinet ministers from Latin American countries signed. And
several eminent Canadians were among the signatories. The drug policies the
world has been following for decades are a destructive failure they said. Trying
to stamp out drug abuse by banning drugs has only created an illegal industry
worth $400 billion US. ‘or roughly eight per cent of international trade.’
[…] This powerful statement landed on Mr. Annan’s desk just as the
United Nations was holding a special assembly on global drug problems. Going
into that meeting, the governments of the world appeared all but unanimous in
the belief that the best way to combat drug abuse was to ban the production,
sale or possession of certain drugs. […] Still, the letter to Mr. Annan showed
that this view is far from unanimous. In fact, a large and growing number of
world leaders and experts think the war on drugs is nothing less than a
humanitarian disaster. 
way, Gardner’s series echoed editorials that ran in the Ottawa Citizen in 1997 calling for the decriminalization of drugs.
The following appeared in the second article in the series: The
recent history of drug enforcement, in both Canada and the United States, is
largely a record of failure. Tax dollars are lavished on enforcement. Police
powers are expanded at the expense of civil liberties. Criminal gangs grow
richer. And drug use goes on regardless.”
the Toronto Globe and Mail expressed a
similar view under the headline “What
are G8 Leaders Smoking?” The newspaper wrote, “Prohibition does not work and cannot work, and its costs are higher
than those of a policy of properly supervised and regulated access to drugs.
Given that the elimination of drugs from our society is not an option, the G8
leaders should have been asking themselves how they can minimize the harm that
drugs represent. As it is, their policies maximize the damage.” The Globe
and Mail did the same thing in a two-part editorial in July 2001,
recommending decriminalization of marijuana. The Vancouver
Sun followed suit in October 1998, and the National
Post also called for an end to the prohibition on marijuana. More recently
still, in the wake of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Citizen editorial staff responded to those who suggested that money
from drug trafficking was being used to finance terrorism. The editorial read:
The latest drug-war scare,
from Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay and others, is that terrorists may be
using drug money to finance their evil deeds. If so, you can see why. Terrorism,
like any real crime, produces victims rather than satisfied customers, so it's
not exactly self-financing. The drug trade, by contrast, turns a regular profit
because it involves transactions so mutually satisfactory that buyers and
sellers will risk jail to conduct them. […] In short, the drug war not only
brings the law into contempt and threatens public safety, it also funnels money
to terrorists and helps them move between countries. And people want more of it?
I say a virtuous choice must be a choice to be virtuous, so I'd repeal the drug
laws on moral grounds. But put aside my distaste for paternalism. If fighting
the war on drugs increases the danger of losing the war on terror, surely it's
doing far more harm than good. 
editorials and features are interesting for many different reasons. First, they
mark a major shift from the positions that were more tentative or simply
favoured prohibition that had held sway since the beginning of the century. They
were also part of a constant questioning of the government’s role and the
appropriateness of government spending and reflected growing concern for
do not know how they affect public opinion. We are not in a position to say if
they reflect views held widely among the public or whether they are skewed. Only
one thing strikes us as relatively certain: most major media outlets in Canada
have distanced themselves quite significantly from prohibitionist policies.
public opinion data assembled over the last 10 years, some by Health Canada, we
know that more than two thirds of Canadians think that no one should go to jail
for cannabis use, and approximately half of Canadians explicitly advocate the
decriminalization or depenalization of cannabis use. This has been consistently
the case over the last 25 years. In other words, there has been a public opinion
message for a quarter of a century that so far has been ignored by lawmakers and
the biggest limitations of opinion polls is their superficial nature: the
questions are often inserted into more general surveys covering a variety of
subjects, there is little opportunity to ask multiple questions, and the meaning
of the terms is rarely explored. For example, the terms “legalization” and
“decriminalization” do not necessarily mean the same thing to all
respondents. But general surveys are not able or rarely have the means to bring
those differences to light. If the survey asks a single question about marijuana
along the lines of “are you in favour of decriminalizing the possession of
small quantities of marijuana?”, there is no way of knowing what the
respondents think when they hear “decriminalizing” and “small
quantities”. For some, decriminalization may mean no penalty; for others, it
may mean a fine. And the difference between 5 grams and 30 grams is enormous.
media, and in an equally complex way, surveys help shape public views. And also
like the media, it is hard to determine the role they play in changing attitudes
and, more importantly, behaviour. With those reservations out of the way, we
provide in the following paragraphs a sample of data from a number of different
1994 national survey on alcohol and drugs, the respondents were asked to give
their opinion on marijuana: 27% said that possession of small quantities should
be legal; 42% said it should be illegal but should not result in a penalty or
should result in a fine only; and 17% said that possession of marijuana should
lead to a possible prison sentence for a first offence. Men and younger people
are more inclined to favour legalization of marijuana, as are residents of
British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta and Ontario.
the National Post reported the results
of a survey which showed that almost two thirds of Canadians were in favour of
decriminalizing marijuana and that the punishment for possession of small
quantities for personal use should be a fine.
recently still, in a May 2001 survey, 47% of Canadians said they favour
legalization of marijuana, up from 31% in 1995 and 26% in 1975.
smaller survey of public perceptions was conducted in Quebec in 2001 using a
sample of 2,253 respondents (response rate 70%).
The survey focused solely on drugs, drug addiction and HIV and measured
knowledge, perception of risk, perception of drug addicts, and possible policies
and measures. What makes this type of study interesting is that because the
questions were limited to drug addiction and drugs, it provides clearer and more
comprehensive information on certain issues.
study showed that the majority (66%) of Quebeckers think that drug use is
increasing. It also showed that “[translation] marijuana
is in a class of its own” in terms of perception of risk because
“[translation] only one in four people
felt that marijuana is dangerous the first time it is used, which is less than
the opinion reported for tobacco, even though tobacco is legal. Moreover,
marijuana is the only substance that a relatively large number of respondents
described as never harmful to health. […] People consider it less dangerous
than tobacco.” The surveys also show
that marijuana is the substance least likely to lead to addiction: approximately
15% of respondents think that marijuana creates a dependency the first time it
is tried, whereas more than 40% said it would have to be used every day and 8%
said that marijuana never creates dependency.
opinions on public policy, the study showed a clear preference for prevention
and education over controls and repressive measures. Almost 35% of those asked
what measures would be likely to eliminate drug problems said that the
controlled sale of marijuana and hashish would help reduce the adverse effects.
According to the authors, the public “[translation] is very open to some form of legalization of hashish and marijuana. More
than 90% said that people with certain serious illnesses should be allowed to
get prescription hashish and marijuana in order to relieve their pain. Far fewer
people, although still a majority (60%), would be willing to allow those drugs
to be used under certain conditions perhaps like alcohol.”
Fewer than 40% thought that current laws help prevent people from using (and
approximately 60% disagreed somewhat or completely with that statement).
Ontario, the school survey also looked at students’ perception of risk and
disapproval of marijuana use. The results are shown in the following table.
Perceptions of Ontario high-school students, 1989-2001 
Disapprove of experimentation
Disapprove of regular use
Associate high risk with
Associate high risk with
results show that Ontario high-school students’ attitudes on all indicators
are either less alarmist or more liberal, depending on one’s point of view.
Fewer students disapproved of experimentation (one or two times) with marijuana
and regular use in 2001 than in 1989. However, more students still disapproved
of regular use than occasional use. The level of disapproval decreases as level
of schooling increases. Further, fewer Ontario students associated a high risk
with marijuana use in 2001 than in 1989, but still almost three times as many
associated a high risk with regular use than with experimentation. It bears
noting that students who associate a high risk with regular marijuana use now
make up less than half the student population, down from three quarters in 1989.
large, these data are in line with the results of the study the Committee
commissioned from the firm Léger Marketing.
The objective of this qualitative study using focus groups was to determine
whether it was possible to identify elements that could serve as the basis of a social consensus on the use of
cannabis. More specifically, the study was designed to determine the overall
perception of drug use in general and cannabis in particular; the images
associated with cannabis; attitudes and social behaviour toward the use of
cannabis for recreational purposes; fears and prejudices; knowledge of the
legislative framework; and the expectations of citizens with regard to a public
policy on the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. Léger held 16 focus
groups and conducted 15 in-depth interviews in Montreal, Trois-Rivières,
Halifax, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto and London. In all, more than 130 people
took part in the study. In each city, there were at least two focus groups, one
with adults over the age of 18, and one with youth 14 to 17 years of age.
participants in the focus groups did not spontaneously mention drugs as everyday
concerns; they reported being more concerned about health, education, employment
and poverty. When the subject was raised by the interviewers, the participants
first named crime related to the sale of drugs and drug smuggling as primary
concerns, not drug use by Canadians. In some cities (Montreal, Vancouver), the
participants also voiced concern about the impact illegal drugs have on quality
of life and safety in some neighbourhoods.
about marijuana, almost all of the participants spontaneously made a distinction
between soft drugs (marijuana, hashish) and hard drugs (cocaine, heroin); some
even thought the word “drug” was inappropriate in reference to marijuana.
That distinction is based on two major elements: composition and effect. Hard
drugs are more closely associated with chemical products that have destructive
effects, particularly a greater tendency to develop an addiction. Marijuana and
marijuana derivatives are associated with plants or natural products, and the
risk of dependency is virtually nil, except among people who are especially
predisposed or vulnerable. There were many comparisons with alcohol: alcohol can
be used in reasonable quantities without a problem, and only a small proportion
of users develop dependency problems. Nor was marijuana associated with crime: “I
can’t picture a guy robbing the corner store to buy himself a joint. This is
something heroin addicts would do. First, pot is cheap, second it doesn’t make
you want it desperately.” The only exception more common in Quebec than
elsewhere was the association with organized crime, that is, motorcycle gangs.
contrast to “hard” drugs, which are considered part of a world of moral and
physical distress and social decay, the participants generally associated
marijuana with relaxation and pleasure, a drug used primarily in social
settings, like alcohol.
event, recreational use of marijuana was generally well accepted: “it
doesn’t bother me that people do marijuana. As long as they are aware of their
decision and what they are doing, I respect it.” In fact, several
participants in each group spontaneously mentioned their own past or current
experiences with marijuana use: “I
sometimes smoke pot and it doesn’t keep me from being a productive guy at work
or a good family man.” And like alcohol, the difference lay more in the
notions of abuse and responsibility, although the participants were harder on
alcohol abuse, which they associate with violence. “I
used to go out to bars a lot. Every night there would be a fight. A guy gets
drunk and then starts insulting somebody else or feels another is flirting with
his girlfriend. At one point punches get thrown around. But you know what? I
have never seen a guy stoned on pot go nuts and want to knock somebody out.”
While they did not associate marijuana use with violence or crime, the
participants did express concern about people’s behaviour when under the
influence of marijuana. Finally, the participants did not associate marijuana
use with a particular social class: young people use marijuana, but so, too, do
professionals, artists, lawyers, government employees and others.
researchers did not observe any generational differences in recreational use of
marijuana. If there were a difference, it would be rooted more in
socio-occupational features: people with less education and people in rural
areas appear to be more resistant. Further, people who oppose recreational use
of marijuana do so more for moral and sometimes even religious reasons. Another
difference is that women with school-age children said they were very concerned
about how readily available marijuana is in schools. [translation]
“I don’t care if they legalize it or not. All I want is for marijuana to be
kept away from children. It makes me furious that they sell it in primary
school, because that gets them hooked at a very young age.”
public opinion surveys discussed earlier showed, the participants generally
supported the legalization of marijuana for medical use. However, some of the
respondents said they would like to see a clear distribution structure put in
place in health care establishments and that dosages should be geared to the
intensity of the pain.
the participants felt that occasional use had no adverse health effect.
Spontaneously making a comparison with alcohol and tobacco, they felt that
marijuana was not the most dangerous of the three substances. Further, most of
the respondents were not afraid of people getting hooked on marijuana, noting
that dependency is a function of the person’s maturity and frequency of use. “This
is the key question. I don’t think you can get hooked on it really. Not as
much as booze or nicotine for sure. But that’s the kind of proof or medical
evidence I would like to have if you want me to make up my mind on it.”
The participants also did not think that marijuana is a gateway to other drugs
or “hard drugs”, because the user’s personality and maturity have more
influence than the marijuana itself.
interview guide asked the participants to react to two research findings: the
proportion of Canadians who have used marijuana in the past 12 months is
approximately 10%, and about 30,000 charges are laid a year for simple
possession of marijuana. In both cases, the participants were incredulous.
Regarding the proportion of users, all the participants felt that there were far
more: “[translation] I’m
surprised that only 10% of the population are users. I would have said 50% or
60%.” Regarding the number of charges, the participants unanimously felt
that police should focus more on fighting crime rings: “30,000
people charged per year seems like a waste of taxpayers’ money, if it is just
for possession. It’s a lot of money to prosecute and they all get thrown out
anyway.” [translation] “When you
think about other, more serious crimes, when you think how it clogs up the
courts, I think it’s ridiculous.” Nevertheless, the participants felt
that Canada is a relatively tolerant society when it comes to recreational use
of marijuana, at least in comparison with other countries, and spontaneously
named the United States and Saudi Arabia as repressive and Switzerland and the
Netherlands as tolerant; Canada fell somewhere in between.
interviews were conducted after the Committee released its discussion paper in
which it set out a number of public policy options. The focus group participants
were first urged to freely voice their opinions on the public policies they
would prefer to see and were then presented with the Committee’s proposals and
asked to react.
large, the response from the participants fell somewhere between
decriminalization and legalization. That position was most prevalent in
Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax; more participants in Vancouver and
Montreal favoured legalization with government controls: “The best option is decriminalization leaning towards government
legalization. The worst option would be depenalization: to legalize without
getting involved.” According to the participants, those options would make
it possible to increase the ability to provide information about risk, user
health, public safety, respect for individual rights and freedoms, and the
effectiveness of government spending, and would reduce illegal trafficking and
the involvement of organized crime. They also said they would anticipate an
increase in recreational use of marijuana but did not think that there would
necessarily be an increase in use or abuse among young people. On the contrary,
several participants felt that decriminalization would lead to a decrease in use
among young people because the appeal of the forbidden fruit would be gone.
still a hard-core minority who think that current laws are not harsh enough and
that society should move toward greater criminalization of recreational use of
marijuana. That position was voiced most loudly in Winnipeg among persons over
40 and in Trois-Rivières.
the participants said they would like to be informed and “educated” about
marijuana use and in particular would like to be made aware of scientific
knowledge of the short- and long-term effects, the real risk of dependency and
escalation, ways of protecting children against early use, and the impact of
decriminalization on the war on organized crime.
authors of the study identified the following key factors:
of youth and children is central to any discussion of a public policy on
of use is the preferred option, as it would make it possible to recognize the
social reality and at the same time focus on the “real” problems;
participants expressed support for legalization but wondered about the nature
and control of production and quality standards, methods of distribution and
marketing, and the establishment of quotas in order to prevent abuse.
this was a qualitative survey, we cannot extrapolate the results to the entire
Canadian population. Our financial resources did not allow us to conduct a
comprehensive study using a representative sample of the population, which would
have allowed us to validate these “hunches”. Still, we are able to state the
following: 1. these results are similar in many ways to the data from the
opinion polls; and 2. the commonalities between the focus groups in most of
the cities and between age groups suggest there is some validity to these
of Canadians from all over the country wrote to us, and dozens appeared at our
public hearings in the regions. They came to recount their personal experiences,
state their opinions and voice their fears. They represented rights and freedoms
advocacy groups, compassion clubs, which distribute medical marijuana, treatment
and prevention organizations, and women’s groups. They were mayors, police
chiefs, users of medical marijuana, parents, educators, physicians, lawyers and
recreational marijuana users, young and old alike. They often spoke from the
heart, and we were moved by what they said. Appendix 2 is a list of all the
people the Committee heard during its public hearings. We would like to thank
all those who took part in our proceedings.
impossible to present in this report all the contributions to our discussions
and highlight their extraordinary worth. Fortunately, the transcripts of the
hearings will remain on our Internet site. The following will summarize the
opinions conveyed to us in reaction to our discussion paper.
should point out first of all that the people who shared their views were for
the most part very happy with the diligence of our work and, more specifically,
were very appreciative of the opportunity they were given to take part in this
have followed with great interest the proceedings of the Special Committee on
Illegal Drugs and would like to thank the person who decided to publish the
brief so completely and honestly. This speaks volumes of transparent government,
which is a key element in resolving the debate.
would first of like to commend the Senate for its Special Committee on Illegal
Drugs and its impartial and ground-breaking work on marijuana.
you for taking the time to review my submission. I would like to commend the
Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs for its excellent research on the facts and
criticism of the myths surrounding illegal drugs.
of all, I would like to thank the Committee for skilfully separating the facts
from the propaganda surrounding this issue. […] Thank you for taking the time
to get public input on the issue. I only hope that this will not fall on deaf
ears as was the case with the Le Dain Commission before you. Again, I
believe the Committee is trying to do its best for the people of Canada.
read your discussion paper on marijuana and the accompanying documentation and
found the material to be most interesting. I would like to commend you for your
willingness to launch a public debate in this area of policy.
the people who took the time to respond to us also said they found the
discussion paper to be well done, useful and balanced. Moreover, the respondents
said they agreed with the research data we presented in the paper. Where there
were reservations, they pertained to:
interpretation of the data: for some people, marijuana is unquestionably a
cautious side: saying that marijuana is a drug and therefore should not be used
was perceived as “politically correct”;
a lack of
compassion and concern for youth and children.
Canadians from different walks of life shared with us their concerns about the
prospect of marijuana being decriminalized and about the message that that kind
of decision would send to young people.
[Translation] It doesn’t make any sense to use to legalize a drug with all the
question marks and solid facts that are seen as consequences of marijuana use.
If we had to do it over again, I don’t think with the information we currently
have that we would want to legalize nicotine or even alcohol. Once we consider
legalizing a drug, we can assume that the drug will become more readily
available and that there will therefore be more use and more problems. Remember:
marijuana is not harmful because it is illegal; marijuana is still illegal
because it is harmful. 
public debate is healthy and valuable, but it requires exposure to a full range
of viewpoints. Regrettably, this is not the case in regard to the non-medical
use of drugs. Rather, we have had constant and copious representation of the
view that the only way to deal with the drug problem is to accept its
inevitability and even its normalcy. (…)
discussion about drug strategies, the harm of illegal drugs is usually
identified , not with the drug’s intrinsic chemical effects on the human body,
especially on brain function and behaviour, but rather on extrinsic consequences
of the illegality of the drug. Thus, the general havoc wreaked on the lives of
addicts and their families is ignored in favour of deploring the harm that a
criminal record can do to self-esteem. Further, the property crime and violence
carried out by drug users are attributed to the illegality of the drugs rather
than to the diminished work habits and lack of earning capacity which result
from drug use. 
concerns with the Discussion Paper released by the Committee centre primarily on
cannabis policies and the resulting effects on youth and families. (…) We
suggest to the Committee that rather than focusing on reforming our drug laws,
efforts would be much better spent on examining strategies focused on
prevention. (…) Much rhetoric exists around the supposed ‘war on drugs’:
have we lost the war, what do we do now and were we really fighting a war to
begin with? The challenge presented to this Committee is not an easy task: to
recommend workable, feasible policies regarding cannabis use. To this end, we
trust that the Committee will be prudent in its decisions, innovative in its
policy recommendations and resistant to the urge to simply give sway to ‘hemp
mania’. We owe it to our young people. 
ladies and gentlemen, please do not just rely on research and the experts. There
are many well-financed documents and experts that are paid to promote
legalization. THC, the active ingredient of cannabis can be taken in pills, we
do not have to promote smoking in another form. […] If I could suggest the
following: 1. Provide more treatment resources and services; 2. Change our
system of incarceration when it comes to drug-induces crime – mandatory
treatment; and 3. Have our country adopt a zero tolerance to illegal drugs and
provide the ability to our police to enforce the policy and mandate our courts
to address the issue. Please do not provide another avenue for our children to
escape reality. 
said, most of the people who responded to the questionnaire also said they were
in favour of decriminalization or controlled legalization of marijuana and
marijuana derivatives. For that reason, we have to be very careful still
regarding the meaning of the comments we received: most of those who wrote to us
are probably interested, for personal reasons, in seeing the current legislation
amended to introduce more tolerance. That view probably coloured their
assessment of our discussion paper and the quality of our research findings.
the status of public opinion in Canada? We are not able to come up with firm
answers to that question. We do think, however, that:
Conclusions of Chapter 10
Opinions on marijuana
Opinions on public policy options
opinion on marijuana more liberal than it was 10 years ago.
to think that marijuana use is more widespread than it used to be.
to think that marijuana is more available than it used to be.
to think that marijuana is not a dangerous drug.
significant concern about organized crime.
support for medical use of marijuana.
to favour decriminalization or, to a lesser degree, legalization.
attitude toward law enforcement for simple possession of marijuana.
for youth and children.
See the analyses by Giffen, P.J., et
al. (1991), Panic and
Indifference. The Politics of Canada’s Drug Laws, Ottawa: Canadian
Centre on Substance Abuse; Boyd, N. (1991), High
Society: Illegal and Legal Drugs in Canada, Toronto: Key Porter Books.
Quoted by McKenzie King in Hansard, House of Commons, January 26,
1911, pages 2641-2642.
Murphy, E., (1920), “The underground system”, MacLean’s, March 15, 1920.
Murphy, E., (1922) The Black
Candle. Toronto: Thomas Allans, pages 332-333.
Gardner, D., “Why the war on drug has failed: Uncle Sam’s war”,
Ottawa Citizen, September 5, 2000.
Editorial, “Decriminalizing Drugs”, Ottawa
Citizen, April 12, 1997, April 14, 1997, April 15, 1997, and April 16,
John Robson, “How many burbs must the drug war burn, before we call
it a bust?, Ottawa Citizen, May
Dr. Benedikt Fischer, Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences,
University of Toronto, testimony before the Special Senate Committee on
Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session of the thirty-seventh
Parliament, September 17, 2001, Issue 6, page 13.
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (1999), Canadian Profile, 1999: Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, Ottawa:
author, pages 214-215.
National Post, “Two-thirds favour decriminalizing pot”, May 15,
Julian Beltrame, “Reefer Madness: The Sequel”, MacLean’s, August 6, 2001, Vol. 114, pages 22-25.
Hamel, D., et al. (2001), Perceptions
de la population québécoise en lien avec les programmes de prévention de
la toxicomanie et du VIH,[public
perceptions in Quebec regarding substance abuse and HIV prevention
programs], Quebec City: Institut national de santé publique du Québec.