On July 30, 2001, the ‘Narcotic Control Regulation’ was amended and the ‘Marijuana Medical Access Regulation’ came into force. This sparked the beginning of a heated national debate, the subject in question being the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes in Canada. While marijuana is still considered an illegal substance in Canada, it is approved for use under certain circumstances. It is available for applicants who have a terminal illness with a prognosis of a life span of less than 12 months, those who suffer from specific symptoms associated with certain serious medical conditions, or those who have symptoms associated with a serious medical circumstance, where conventional treatments have failed to relieve symptoms (Health Canada, “Medical Marijuana”).
Due to previous stigmatizations associated with marijuana use, as well as its previous legal implications, public favor was not in support for the recent Bill C-17; a Bill for cannabis law reform in Canada, which was passed on November 1, 2004. The legislation allows a person to have up to 30 grams of marijuana in their possession, within limitations, while only receiving a fine (Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, “Cannabis Law Reform in Canada”). This Act is the closest the Canadian government has ever before come toward legalizing marijuana. It is becoming increasingly apparent that through Bill C-17, there will be potentially beneficial monetary implications for the federal government, false social perceptions will lessen, and medical benefits of cannabis use will become further appreciated. In the future, marijuana use will not be perceived as the social ‘evil’ it once was, or still is. In light of the following information, it will become clear that it is not necessary to prohibit marijuana use, but rather to regulate it.
To drug policy reformers, prohibition of marijuana is not just a cause to be supported, but a mandatory way of life, necessary to uphold society’s moral fiber. These activists do not consider marijuana to be safe. Even when scientific information supports the lack of harmful effects of cannabis on the body; many still categorize it with dangerous substances such as cocaine or heroin. It is these ‘marijuana myths’ that continue to influence the opinions of so many Canadian citizens, even though there is a lack of fact-driven information to support common social stigma.
A widespread belief amongst the public is that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’, leading to the use of more harmful substances. Never has there been a consistent relationship between the use patterns of various drugs. While marijuana use has fluctuated over the years, harder, more addictive drug use, such as LSD, remains the same. In fact, in 1999 less than 16% of high school students who smoked marijuana report trying cocaine (qtd. in Zimmer, 2). Another frequent misconception is that high levels of marijuana use can be profoundly addicting. While lab rats that are injected with THC and then given a cannabinoid receptor-blocker do experience some withdrawal symptoms, such as disturbed sleep and loss of appetite, humans are never given ‘blockers’. THC slowly leaves the human system, causing no serious withdrawal (Zimmer et al. 47). A study such as this is not relevant to physical addiction in humans.
Lastly, many people still believe that the damaging effects of smoking marijuana are greater then that of smoking tobacco products. Although, except for their psychoactive ingredients, tobacco and marijuana smoke are nearly identical, tobacco use is far more dangerous than the latter. Mainly because of nicotine (cigarettes’ addictive quality), cigarette smokers tend to smoke 10 cigarettes a day, while regular cannabis smokers smoke fewer than 5 (Zimmer et al. 62). Marijuana smoke also effects the lungs in a different way than tobacco smoke does. “The nature of the marijuana-induced changes were also different, occurring primarily in the lungs’ large airways – not the small peripheral airways affected by tobacco smoke. Since it is small-airway inflammation that causes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, marijuana smokers may not develop these diseases” (Zimmer et al. 64).
These are just a few basic examples of the social stigmatization surrounding marijuana use, as there are many others. When closer examined, none of these ‘myths’ provide a solid foundation for the prohibition of marijuana use; therefore its ban remains unfounded.