Editor’s Note: Did you hear? Yesterday, Canada’s Senate passed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. Legalization will officially take place in October 17, 2018, in an effort to “take market share away from organized crime and protect the country’s youth,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. Do you think Canada passed the law because they read Matthew DeCloedt’s post, published on Tuesday, about human rights arguments that advanced the passage of Canadian medical marijuana laws years before? Probably! Here’s more from DeCloedt in a video taken at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, so you can hear the man himself explain his research and work. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Matthew DeCloedt, a law student at Central European University and a participant in the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held from April 19-20, 2018, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. DeCloedt brings a legal lens to the conversation surrounding medical marijuana in Canada, with a specific focus on human rights. Enjoy!
To understand how Canada went from limited access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes to the impending legalization of recreational pot, it is crucial to understand the impact of human rights discourse on the erosion of impediments to accessing medical cannabis.
From the early 2000s, Canadian courts were a crucial forum for taking issue with the federal government’s restrictive cannabis law and policy.
Section 7 of the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives “Everyone…the right to life, liberty and the security of person,” was the most important of the rights invoked by litigants.
The success and failure of human rights claims depended on Canadian litigants’ ability to convince the courts that the threat of criminal sanctions for possessing and cultivating cannabis for therapeutic purposes violated their right to life, liberty and security of person. In other words, they asked whether prohibition was a proportional response to the supposed harms of using cannabis?
Dan Malleck is an Associate Professor of Health Sciences at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario. He is the author of Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-1944 (University of British Colombia Press, 2012) and co-editor, with Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, of Consuming Modernity: Gendered Behaviour and Consumerism Before the Baby Boom (UBC Press, 2014). Try to Control Yourself won the Canadian Historical Association’s Clio Prize for Best Book in Ontario History in 2013, and Malleck’s writing has appeared in news outlets including the Globe and Mail and The National Post. He earned his PhD from Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. Malleck’s most recent book is When Good Drugs Go Bad: Opium, Medicine, and the Origins of Canada’s Drug Laws (UBC Press, 2015), which he discusses below.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
This book examines the social and cultural forces that combined to encourage the creation of Canada’s drug laws. It argues that we need to get past the simplistic statement that drug laws were racist reactions to foreigners in our country, and have complex roots.
What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
The book is not a political history, but it looks at how various cultural, economic, professional and social forces converged in the early 1900s to make it seem necessary to create federal laws restricting opiates and other mind altering drugs. It takes long time-
line, following the threads of influence as they grew and expanded, gathering energy and cultural currency. I use the metaphor of streams converging into raging river.
The main question driving the research was “why did we decide that addiction was a problem that needed federal intervention” and “when did it become okay for the government to severely restrict sales of certain substances that were previously generally unrestricted.” I argue that Canada’s first drug laws were not laws against recreational use, but pharmacy laws that made it restricted certain substances determined to be dangerous. These laws, the results of political lobbying to deal with a social problem, made such restrictions acceptable. From that point, the definition of “danger” expanded from the potential of death, to the potential for serious damage, to the potential for dependency. The precedent for national drug regulation, then, was set in the pharmacy acts, which were a combination of professional pressure and social concern over access to poisonous substances.
I also challenge a dominant and reductionist narrative that the opium acts of the early 1900s were simply attacks on Chinese people in Canada. This argument misses the power of the idea that drugs were a problem. When William Lyon MacKenzie King argued, in his preamble to the 1908 report encouraging parliament to create the Opium Act, that opium’s “baneful influences” were “too well known to require comment” he was channeling that broader concern based upon the familiarity of most Canadians with the challenges of opium as a medicine and a habit-forming drug. He himself had experience of these baneful influences in his personal life, and most Canadians probably knew someone who had an opium habit. Most had probably consumed opium at some point. To reduce this to an attack on the Chinese is simply a distortion of the past, often for current political reasons. Moreover, the same session of parliament that passed the Opium Act also passed a Proprietary and Patent Medicines Act, dealing with another significant drug problem. This book springs from that contention that reducing the drug laws to racist reactionism doesn’t do the story justice, nor does it help us understand the complexity of our drug laws in general, and the challenges of reforming them.
Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?
It’s the same page length as my first book even though it’s much longer, but took less time to write. Figure that out.
Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?
One thing I was never able to do due to the sheer volume of material and time it would take was track the changes in prescribing patterns as different laws came into effect. I have a database of probably hundreds of thousands of prescriptions from pharmacy records that span various provincial and federal law changes, and I wonder if those laws, restricting access to substances like opium, affected the way doctors prescribed, or the way customers purchased (or pharmacists dispensed). I suspect it did, but without a massive team, grant, and hiccup in space/time, I won’t be able to do that.
BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is cross-hosted at Points and Cannabis Life Network. Contact author Lucas Richert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From 2014–2016, Canadian health authorities were forced to address the issue of medical marijuana, even as activist groups and industry sought to influence the decision-making process and its place in the medical marketplace. First, the system was privatized, then issues of use and access, not to mention the full-on legalization of recreational marijuana, dominated headlines.
In light of last week’s shocking medical marijuana report, the policy debate will certainly grow more heated here in the UK. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform stated there is “good evidence” cannabis can help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Prof Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”
In a recently co-edited series on Canadian cannabis called Waiting to Inhale, it became clear that medical marijuana was a supremely complex policy issue. Some of the questions included, but were not limited to, the tenuous balance between consumers and regulators, Canadian physicians as unwanted gatekeepers, marijuana as a measure (and potential leveller) of inequities, and the major struggles between Big Cannabis and craft cannabis.
Looking ahead, the UK can learn lessons from other countries, including Canada.
Background: Canadian medical cannabis
Medical marijuana has been available in Canada since 2001, after the Canadian Court of Appeal declared that sufferers from epilepsy, AIDS, cancer and other ailments had a constitutional right to light up. Prohibition of this “medicine” was, in short, unconstitutional.
The original regulation that allowed patients to access medical marijuana in Canada was enacted in 2001 and called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). It allowed patients to possess dried marijuana flower/bud with a license issued by the government, provided that the application was signed off by a physician.
One strain of medicine was available for purchase from one single government supplier, Prairie Plant Systems, but optional licenses were available for patients to grow their own plants or to designate a grower to supply medicine to them.
The MMAR was repealed and replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), enacted on Apr. 1, 2014. With this, medical marijuana was officially opened for business. And the new rules generated a craze as dozens of new entrants jumped into the marketplace.
As of Aug. 24, 2016 the MMPR was replaced with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR). These new regulations included legislation that satisfied the latest Supreme Court decision to allow patients who possess a prescription from a doctor to grow their own medicine.
During this period, certain problems have hindered the medical marijuana industry’s growth in Canada, and Britain could learn from these.
Dispensaries vs. Big Cannabis
These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.
The pushback against dispensaries has come from national and local law enforcement as well as the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association. Yet, the Cannabis Growers of Canada, a trade association representing “unlicensed” growers and dispensaries, have fought to be included at the table. Along with several other organizations, the CGC has lobbied the government to be included in the new legal regime.
As the New York Times put it, “a lobbying battle is raging between the new entrepreneurs and the licensed medical marijuana producers, who were the only ones allowed to grow and provide the plant under the old regulations. One side complains about being shut out by a politically connected cartel, while the other complains about unfair and damaging competition from those who are breaking the law.”
Medical marijuana has not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.
As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.
Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.
The result is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to, being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.
Workplace Safety and Performance
With more relaxed rules around medical marijuana (along with federal legislation looking to legalize cannabis),employers are wondering whether this will grow as an issue when it comes to pre-employment or on-the-job testing.
Aside from certain industries, such as transportation, most provinces don’t have clear policies or precedents for dealing with medical marijuana.
Besides that, workplace screening of marijuana is a mediocre indicator of performance in the workplace as it doesn’t actually test for impairment. Rather, it tests for by-products excreted from the body after the drug’s been ingested.
Looking ahead, human resource departments will be forced to develop a raft of new policies.
The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, this is twice the amount Health Canada considers safe.
An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance and has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.
Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as the number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.
The intersection of vaping and medical marijuana has also caused tension. As vaping has moved from a niche presence to mainstream practice, its unregulated nature – at the federal level – poses problems to policy-makers.
For example, the Ontario government exempted medical marijuana users in mid-November from a law that bans the use of e-cigarettes anywhere regular cigarettes are prohibited. These regulations were set to come into effect Jan. 1. This exemption meant medical marijuana users could vape in restaurants, at work or on playgrounds. However, Ontario’s associate health minister Dipika Damerla stated that the government would remove the exemption.
Local governments in various cities recently voted to implement a vaping bans in public spaces, with only a vape shop exemption predicated on “safety” concerns, specifically for the uninitiated e-cigarette user who doesn’t know how to install batteries in the device. But it was also predicated on the notion that buyers should be able to see what they’re getting, which is the same argument made by authorized medical cannabis users about the value of a local pot dispensary.
Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious.
Policy makers from government, industry leaders, and physicians will face considerable question marks. Cutting through all the haze won’t be an easy task, yet all participants, including the public, would be wise to use recent examples from Canada to light the way.
Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Cynthia Belaskie and Lucas Richert. Richert is a lecturer in history at University of Saskatchewan and Belaskie is a senior advisor at McMaster University. Enjoy!
We weren’t left to wait in the B.C. rain. After presenting our IDs at the security station outside Tilray’s medical cannabis facility in Nanaimo, and once we were confirmed as being on the official “list,” it took less than a minute to enter the recently constructed $30 million, 65,000 square-foot facility.
There were four of us taking the tour of Tilray, one of Canada’s licensed producers of medical marijuana. We were part of a SSHRC-funded conference in the history of drugs and alcohol at Vancouver Island University, and this was one of the activities available to us as participants in the event.
Our guide was Phillipe Lucas, Vice-President of Patient Services at Tilray. He walked us through the electric gate and led us into a cozy holding room filled with bottles of San Pellegrino, a weigh scale, and a flat screen TV flashing images of the building’s construction. A former city councilor in Victoria, an expert witness on marijuana in Canada, and one-time dispensary owner, Philippe was handsome. He spoke quickly, laughed easily, and possessed an air of mischief, too.
Over the past ten years, Phillipe has published peer-reviewed articles on cannabis’s therapeutic effects on patients in top academic journals around the world. In particular, as a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, he has been working on a concept called the cannabis substitution theory, which seeks to understand the behaviours and choices of marijuana-using patients in the medical marketplace. Besides this, he helped co-found a Canadian chapter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
We deposited our belongings on the leather chairs in the cozy waiting room, leaving our phones and cameras behind, and Phillipe explained the building was a Level 9 security complex. Level 10 was reserved for nuclear products and the facility has been described by Charlie Smith as “a vault wrapped by Fort Knox wrapped in a castle.” No pictures allowed. No videos, either.
With security passes on display around our necks, we set off. We engaged in an intricate dance as we tapped in and out of each fortified and sanitized room. Our graceless choreography, made ever more awkward as we stood outside each room and robed and disrobed to prevent contaminating the delicate crops, was all caught on internal security cameras – lots and lots of cameras, in fact. It is understandable, isn’t it? Just imagine what would happen if this stuff made its way on to the streets.