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Gov't Wrong To Push Medical Marijuana


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Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Author: Susan Martinuk, Special To The Province
Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Copyright: 2004 CanWest Interactive Inc. 
Contact: [email protected]

Government-certified marijuana is coming to a pharmacy near you. Mind you, it's not exactly topnotch stuff and it's not clear that it has any medical benefit. About 700 Canadians currently have a doctor's OK to use marijuana for chronic pain, nausea or to stimulate appetite. 

But the government is convinced there are even more people who would use it -- if it provided better access and reduced regulation. Hence, the weed goes to drugstores and prescriptions aren't necessary.

Canada is the second country to push medical marijuana. Not surprisingly, Netherlands is the other -- a land notorious for its expansive population of drug users and abusers. Logic suggests it isn't the best country to serve as a model for our drug policies.

There are reasons galore to re-consider this policy. The government acknowledges that the pot is of uncertain potency. It's not standardized, so Health Canada is essentially pushing potential safety issues aside and putting an unapproved drug on the market. Isn't that what government regulations are supposed to prevent?

Nor is it clear medical marijuana offers benefits not found in other drugs. The British Medical Journal stated cannabis is no more effective in treating pain than traditional painkillers and, when used to treat nausea and vomiting, the side effects outweigh the benefits. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected legalizing medical marijuana because of a lack of demonstrable benefits.

Even if we dismiss concerns about regulation, safety and effectiveness, as well as where unregulated, unprescribed marijuana could end up, we still have to ask why we're pushing pharmacies and pharmacists to the front of the battlelines for controversial drug policies?

A few years ago, B.C. handed pharmacists the controversial morning-after pill for distribution without a prescription. It was an abrupt shift in our demands on pharmacists -- suddenly, drugs weren't being dispensed to heal disease, but to end a life.

Oregon pharmacists now are having to fill record numbers of prescriptions for lethal drugs used in state-sponsored, physician-assisted suicides.

And in Britain, over-the-counter genetic screening tests were launched in drugstores, only to be removed later due to concerns about consumer protection and a lack of regulations governing use. We don't have such regulatory laws either, yet it's just a matter of time before euthanasia drugs and genetic tests are for sale here.

A combination of new drugs and lazy legislators has put pharmacists in ethical minefields where they face morally questionable situations. Handing over death drugs and non-standardized, unproven drugs is contrary to professional codes and to many personal consciences.

Even more troubling is that druggists haven't been forced into these situations because of medical consensus, legislation or public discussion -- but because of an Ontario court ruling.

Some pharmacists are forced to violate their personal consciences, religious beliefs and professional ethics -- just to do their daily jobs.

But personal convictions shouldn't be rendered moot just to make government policies more convenient. If the government is pushing its undone business on the shoulders of pharmacists, they must be given freedom of conscience -- that is, the freedom to say no. It's only fair.

Note: Susan Martinuk is a Vancouver broadcaster and freelance writer.

Related Articles & Web Sites:

Canadians for Safe Access

Cannabis News Canadian Links

Medical Marijuana: How To Acquire and Distribute

Smoke Under Fire

Health Canada's Reefer Madness

Health Canada Medical Marijuana Could Be Better 



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