In a statement on June 11, Canadian health minister Rona Ambrose reacted strongly to the Supreme Court ruling that medical cannabis should be available in all forms to patients using it for medical purposes. Not only is Ambrose “outraged”, she believes that it sends a message of normalization to Canadian youth and that there is no clear evidence on the efficacy of cannabis for medical purposes.
But she’s wrong.
It’s troubling that the health minister of Canada, a voice that is suppose to serve the public health interest of Canadians, still cannot admit that cannabis can be, and is, used for a variety of medical purposes.
We should also be concerned that our health minister is having trouble with a decision made in the highest court of Canada. In a unanimous decision (7-0) effective immediately, the judges agreed that it was unreasonable to require users to smoke dried marijuana and that Canadians should not have to choose between their liberty and their health.
Does that mean our constitutional rights simply don’t matter to Ambrose? Let’s not forget that the Harper government appointed seven of the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s frightening that our health minister not only lacks understanding of Canadian’s constitutional rights, but that she outright refuses to become better educated about cannabis as a medicine. Instead, she’d rather sit with her eyes and ears closed reaffirming that “cannabis is not a medicine”!
If that were me in Ambrose’s position, I’d want to see the research too. Part of the job description entails the promotion and protection of public health. Unfortunately, her opinion is not based on current evidence, but century-old “reefer madness” propaganda that is really out of touch with current science. In fact, there are many credible institutions in North America producing peer-reviewed studies on cannabis—from the science to the sociology—and even more when we look to international leaders in this type of research, such as Israel and Spain. Even many of the current producers licensed under the federal program have made a trip to Israel to see what types of innovations are happening there in the medical cannabis world.
Kirk Tousaw, the lawyer responsible for winning this case, said in a recent CBC News interview that Ambrose should “go back to her desk, and get to work on crafting a reasonable set of regulations that will stand up to charter scrutiny, that’s her job”. And he’s right. In Canada, it seems the judicial system is the only real way to make meaningful change—the entire medical cannabis program was a right won in the courts.
We can’t forget about the children, says Ambrose, arguing that medical access in other forms will make pot seem “normal” to them. What about seven-year-old Liam McKnight with Dravet syndrome, whose mother has been breaking the law for nearly two years to provide cannabis in oil form to her son to manage his seizures? Or three-year-old Gwenevere Repetski who relies on the oil to manage her epilepsy? Does the health minister of Canada believe these children should smoke their medicine, or that their parents should be criminalized for extracting cannabis into oil form?
To deny the experience of many Canadians without any proper education certainly seems to have become commonplace for the Harper government. But then again, it’s not like the Harper government has done a great job preserving our constitutional rights lately.
With this ruling, it will be interesting to see the long-term impact on the federal medical marijuana program. A large, unanswered question revolves around whether or not this decision leaves room for commercial production of extracts for licensed producers in Canada. As many have suggested, the real future in the medical cannabis world lies in the availability of extracts and derivatives, particularly for many patients who are unable, for various reasons, to convert the dried forms on their own. What I do know is that the landscape is changing fast, and Ambrose better get with the program, or get out.