Lawyer Kirk Tousaw calls Health Minister Rona Ambrose utterly ignorant about medical cannabis

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      It's been a busy day for B.C. lawyer Kirk Tousaw.

      He's been doing many media interviews after winning a landmark marijuana case in the Supreme Court of Canada.

      And when he contacted the Georgia Straight, he fielded questions on a range of legal issues ranging from dispensaries to the impact of the ruling on other cases before the courts.

      But his most colourful quotes came in response to Health Minister Rona Ambrose's comment that she's "outraged" by the Supreme Court of Canada decision.

      "I think what's outrageous is to have a health minister of this country that is utterly ignorant on the topic of medicinal cannabis," Tousaw declared.

      He claimed that Ambrose doesn't even believe that cannabis is medicine.

      This is the case even though she's responsible for overseeing Canada's medicinal-cannabis program.

      "[She] is busy blaming the courts when she should really be looking at her own office instead of vitriolicly condemning a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision with a bunch of justices that her boss [Stephen Harper] appointed to that court," Tousaw said. "Maybe go back to the drawing board, listen to patients for a change, and come up with a system that is going to work."

      The case was about legal standing

      Lawyer Kirk Tousaw says the court ruling could have far-reaching implications.

      Much of the media coverage has focused on why the court overturned a federal ban on consuming edible forms of marijuana for medical purposes. But Tousaw emphasized that his client, Owen Smith, achieved more than that.

      "It has to do with standing," Tousaw said. "The Crown suggested that Mr. Smith ought not to be able to challenge these laws because he himself wasn't a patient."

      Smith had been charged with trafficking for baking cookies with marijuana extracts for a compassion club. In this decision, Tousaw noted, the court reconfirmed a long-standing legal principle.

      "If the law is unconstitutional for one person, it's unconstitutional for every person," he said. "And no one can be convicted for violating an unconstitutional law. That is a pretty important takeaway."

      Dispensaries could benefit from decision

      He also suggested that the Supreme Court of Canada ruling could provide a "legitimate defence" for marijuana dispensaries if they're charged criminally for selling edible products.

      "They're really stepping into a supply void created by an unconstitutionally restrictive government program," Tousaw said. "Factually, the Supreme Court [of Canada] has accepted the decisions of the courts below finding that edibles are essentially relatively safe substances. And that they provide patients with treatment options that are necessary, effective, and possibly safer than smoking."

      He added that the Supreme Court of Canada ruling could also have an impact on dispensary regulations being developed by the City of Vancouver.

      City still wants ban on cannabis edibles

      Meanwhile, the chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Heath, Dr. Patricia Daly, has argued that the city should ban the sale of baked goods containing marijuana. That's because they haven't been tested by food inspectors.

      Tousaw, however, opposes the city's proposal to prohibit dispensaries from selling edible products containing cannabis.

      "When you have the City of Vancouver talking about an absolute ban on edibles based on sort of fear of harm—fear of harm to health—the factual findings of the Supreme Court of Canada seem to undermine that concern fairly significantly," he noted.

      City staff have recommende that council ban edibles.

      After today's ruling was issued, the City of Vancouver issued a statement reiterating staff's recommendation to ban cannabis in food. The city claimed that "wider availability of these products is causing increased poisonings in children" in the U.S.

      The city's proposed ban on cannabis-laced food products does not apply to the sale of edible oils in sealed containers.

      "The sale of oils allows individuals to create their own edibles and the proposed regulations do not compromise the individual's right to access edible medical marijuana," the city stated.

      Court declaration is significant

      Tousaw pointed out that in previous cases the Supreme Court of Canada has given the federal government a one-year reprieve. This occurred perhaps most notably with assisted-suicide and prostitution,

      This gave Parliament time to rewrite a law to bring it in compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      Tousaw said that in today's cannabis ruling, however, the court did not provide the government with any grace period.

      "The decision goes into effect immediately," he states. "So patients that went to bed last night criminals for possessing cannabis cookies wake up this morning, and they're no longer criminals. That's a pretty important step forward because it doesn't let the Harper government weasel out of complying with this decision."

      Stephen Harper has not been given a grace period to rewrite the law.

      Tousaw also noted that the ruling is not confined to the old Medical Marihuana Access Regulations. They were replaced with a new set of regulations in 2013 called the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.

      "It also applies to the MMPR—or really any legislated scheme—because the declaration was in relationship to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, not any of the exemption schemes the government has come up with under that act," Tousaw said. "That has a pretty important effect on the development of future jurisprudence in this area."

      That's because the ruling stated that sections 4 and 5 of the act "are of no force and effect" with regard to prohibitions on those with medical authorization from possessing cannabis derivatives.

      In fact, Tousaw added, it could have a "ripple effect" on other cases before the courts, including those known as Allard and Garber.

      The Allard case involves the right of people to grow their own marijuana for medicinal purposes. As the law currently stands, people must buy medicinal cannabis from companies licensed by the federal government and only with a prescription from a medical doctor.

      The Garber case deals with non-dried forms of marijuana, including oils and resin, which are not approved under the MMPR.

      "The ban on edibles caused harm and prevented the use of essentially safer and more effective treatment options for patients," Tousaw said. "That's arbitrary."




      Jun 11, 2015 at 3:23pm

      The city claimed that "wider availability of these products is causing increased poisonings in children" in the U.S.

      Whereas it would never occur to a toddler to drink a bottle of cooking oil, or a homemade cookie made the cooking oil, or eat a bottle of children's aspirin, or drink a bottle of grape-flavoured cough syrup.


      Jun 11, 2015 at 4:29pm

      'The city claimed that "wider availability of these products is causing increased poisonings in children" in the U.S.'

      How can you get poisoned by a non-toxic substance? Well, if you smoke 30,000 joints within 15 minutes you have a 50 per cent of dying. So I guess I should reframe the question, how are children in the United States able to ingest enough marijuana to cause a toxic effect???

      I think it's a bunch of bull shit. No children are getting poisoned by pot. It's the same old attribution error. Drinkers are (wrongly) certain that pot is equivalent to alcohol, so people must be getting poisoned and dying from overdoses. Funny!

      J. Frank Parnell

      Jun 11, 2015 at 4:29pm

      Aren't all members of Conservative party utterly ignorant about just about everything? Other than being experts in nasty politics, that is...


      Jun 11, 2015 at 6:51pm

      Children also overdose on other prescription medicines all the time.

      Does Ambrose or the city ban those medicines? No!

      They have education programs to teach patients proper storage and handling. That's what the government should do with medical marijuana. This is not rocket science.

      J. Frank Parnell

      Jun 11, 2015 at 8:34pm

      Beatnuck: the claim you are refuting is that children are ingesting marijuana edibles accidentally and getting sick, not dying. I'm on your side, but straw-manning their arguments is not the way to defeat their fallacious claims. Children are no more likely to be sickened by marijuana products than they are by any other poisonous substance in their homes, of which there are many. But you should be aware that while all toxic substances are poisonous, not all poisonous substances are toxic.

      J. Frank Parnell

      Jun 11, 2015 at 8:46pm

      I think I should also point out that while marijuana edibles may be only one of many poisons typically found in a household, I think that if any parent had to choose which poisonous substance in their homes they'd prefer their child to be poisoned with, if that child had to be poisoned, they would all choose marijuana over alcohol, drain cleaner, etc, as unlike all the other household poisons, marijuana poisoning results in no known permanent effects.

      Carri Jump

      Jun 11, 2015 at 10:14pm

      If I am commercially kitchen trained and I have my Food Safe, and/or related certification, I see no reason why my food is any less safe than any other commercial food distributor. This is a simple regulation standard all ready in place -that can be extended to all cannibis cooks. Problem solved.


      Jun 12, 2015 at 9:42am

      Conservative's as usual show their ignorance with an opinion that can't be backed up by facts or even based in evidence.

      Loren Blair

      Jun 12, 2015 at 8:25pm

      Anyone caught using marijuana without a prescription should be jailed or fined 10000.00 that would settle the dispute.