Parliamentary committees undertake studies dealing with various topics and then write a report. If Opposition members on a particular committee do not agree with the report, they usually put together what is called a Dissenting Minority Report.
The House of Commons Health Committee recently did a study on all aspects of marijuana policy and use in Canada. The NDP believes that this study was unbalanced and was designed to focus on the harms of marijuana policy and use in Canada.
According to our Health critic, Libby Davies and other NDP members of the committee, the study and resulting report did not allow for an unbiased assessment of both harms and potential medical benefits.
Significant testimony was dismissed and eliminated by government members, because it did not support their pre-conceived views about marijuana. Moreover, the report contains “opinions” that are not evidence-based, that are included for political reasons.
A broad consensus must be sought on this issue by involving Canadians from all walks of life, including but not limited to: public safety professionals, educators, health care providers, academics, legal experts, community leaders and youth representatives.
Unfortunately, the study heard from an over representation of witnesses focused on the harm risks of marijuana.
It is clear that the Conservative war on drugs is not working. We need an approach that focuses on health promotion, public education, and safety. Based on a more balanced approach, my party urges the government of Canada to:
• Pursue a public health approach to marijuana focused on education, and where necessary, treatment and harm reduction.
New Democrats acknowledge that there are issues of harm and risk pertaining to marijuana use, particularly for youth. These include concerns that marijuana can increase the risk of accidents while driving, and research suggesting complications related to schizophrenia.
But as noted by Dr. Evan Wood, Dr. Tony George, the Canadian Public Health Association, Philippe Lucas, and others, a public health approach to the non-medical use of drugs, is necessary and critical to minimize risks and harms. The committee heard that public awareness campaigns aimed at youth need to focus on accurate information on health risks and overall health and well-being, rather than using “zero tolerance” and negative messaging that is not effective, particularly for youth.
• Fund research to examine the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana.
Approximately 50 per cent of people who use medical marijuana do so to relieve chronic pain, according to witness Dr. Perry Kendall. Anxiety relief is reported as the primary motivation for cannabis use. In addition, cannabis has also been noted for its effectiveness in relieving anxiety that is secondary to their medical conditions such as chronic pain, HIV/AIDS and Multiple Sclerosis.
Finally, the committee heard that as a result of its potential anti-anxiety properties cannabis is under research for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans Affairs Canada also pays for the cost of medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD in veterans.
But research on medical marijuana is limited because of prohibition. More in-depth research to examine the potential benefits of medical marijuana is needed, but is difficult to undertake due to current Canadian government policies on marijuana.
The government of Canada needs to fund research on the clinical effectiveness of marijuana; as well as the long term effects on vulnerable populations, such as youth and mental illness.
• Establish an independent commission with a broad mandate, including safety and public health, to consult Canadians on all aspects of the non-medical use of marijuana and to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.
The current unregulated markets has failed and produced violence, stigma, and control by organized crime.
Criminalization is not the answer. Our marijuana laws need to be modernized and based on evidence and public health principles.
The government’s approach must seek to balance prevention, public health and well-being, harm reduction, community safety and public education. The federal government must also consult and work with provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nations, Inuit and Metis governments.
In summary, New Democrats express disappointment that this study was so one sided. As a result, it serves no useful purpose, other than to bolster already held Conservative political opinions that are not based on evidence.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior