Column: Federal health minister needs to do her research

If the health minister genuinely wanted clinical scientific evidence and safety reviews to assess medical marijuana, she could get it.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose needs to chill out. Her ranting last week against the Supreme Court of Canada was uncalled for.

All the justices agreed that it is unconstitutional to forbid licensed medical marijuana users from possessing pot-laced products better suited to their health needs such as cannabis-infused brownies, cookies, cakes, tea, butter, tinctures, oils, salves, gel capsules, body creams, or chocolate bars. Right now, the law only allows possession of dried marijuana which can only be smoked.

“The restriction to dried marijuana in the MMARs (Marijuana Medical Access Regulations) breaches the s. 7 rights of individuals who have been issued an Authorization to Possess (ATP) marijuana under the Regulations but require other forms of cannabis  to treat symptoms of serious illness,” wrote  the justices in a unanimous ruling. “The provision is arbitrary and cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.”

It started when Owen Smith was arrested in 2009 for possession of cannabis-infused products. He was employed by the Victoria-based Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada to make a variety of  products for their ATP members suffering from severe or persistent symptoms associated with cancer, MS, epilepsy, spinal cord injury or disease, severe arthritis or HIV/AIDS. For many patients, consuming these products in edible form provides far greater pain relief than smoking a joint or taking conventional prescription painkillers.

Smith was acquitted at trial. The B.C. Appeal Court also ruled in his favour. So the feds appealed again and took the case to the top court. That resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 7-0 ruling last Thursday in favour of Smith which triggered Ambrose’s howling rage.

“I am outraged by the message judges are sending that they think they can approve a drug into a medicine without clear clinical scientific evidence and without safety reviews,” she said. “Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which requires rigorous safety reviews and clinical trials with scientific evidence. I’m outraged by the Supreme Court.”

Really? So why hasn’t Health Canada actually done scientific studies, clinical trials, and safety reviews?

Because the federal government doesn’t want scientific fact put in front of biased policy decisions. Yet there’s plenty of science out there.

Scientists at the New York University Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center released a study showing that a medical liquid form of marijuana offers promise as a treatment for children with severe epilepsy who are not responding to other treatments.

A U.S. nationwide study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry analyzed 24 years of data from over one million adolescents in 48 states and found no evidence that legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes leads to increased use among teenagers.

UBC researchers began a national study last year to follow 300 patients and measure the effect on patient access and health outcomes of proposed changes to Canada’s medical cannabis regulation ending homegrown marijuana and creating a national marketplace.

Scientists at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions are studying chronic stress and depression with a focus on endocannabinoids, brain chemicals similar to substances in marijuana.

Clinical research in New Mexico supports outcomes that show smoking marijuana is associated with reducing PTSD symptoms in some patients. The study was published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

At the University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research 13 studies on cannabis therapy have been completed and five new trials are underway to assess the effectiveness of cannabis and cannabis compounds.

If Health Minister Ambrose genuinely wanted clinical scientific evidence and safety reviews to assess medical marijuana products under Health Canada, she could get it.

But we all know where the war-on-drugs policy sits in the Harper government.