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A protester lights a joint during a marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 20, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A protester lights a joint during a marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 20, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

The war on drugs becomes a meaningless skirmish with sick people Add to ...

Why is Canada wasting money and time prosecuting Matthew Mernagh of St. Catharines, Ont., who suffers from epilepsy and, as an obvious candidate for medical marijuana, grew his own supply? He poses no conceivable threat to society. Whether Mr. Mernagh is right or just deluded that marijuana relieves some of his pain with fewer side effects than other medications doesn’t really matter. There simply is no public interest strong enough that the state should try to throw him in jail.

The constitutional arguments around this issue could fill volumes without ever touching on the most obvious point: The supposed war on drugs has become a meaningless skirmish with Mr. Mernagh and people like him. The machinery of the state is being used at great cost to prosecute a man whose adult life has been a struggle against pain of one sort or another.

Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of Canada’s medical marijuana law. That law puts doctors in the position of gatekeepers. Doctors need to sign a form before people like Mr. Mernagh can legally possess marijuana. A lower court had struck down the law, saying that most doctors refused to sign that form, and so the right of sick people to use medical marijuana was illusory. The appeal court said it is a “medical exemption,” not a right; and even if “the evidence established that the medical profession was refusing en masse [to sign the form],” one judge said, “that would not necessarily make the defence illusory in the relevant sense.” Some defence. Some exemption.

The appeal court did not accept evidence offered by a lower court that most doctors refuse to sign the form. Here, then, is the Canadian Medical Association’s conflicted advice to doctors: “While continuing to oppose the medical use of marijuana and recommending that physicians not participate in the program because of the failure of governments and manufacturers to provide adequate information regarding safety, CMA accepts that physicians who feel qualified to recommend medical marijuana to their patients do so in accordance with the regulations.” (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Mernagh, and the taxpayers of Canada, should not be paying such a steep price for doctors’ honest doubts. There is no crime here.

 

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