Bill Booth kindly invited me on to his podcast to discuss health and medicine. Bill is one of the founders of Radical Americas, an academic network for scholars and activists with interests in radicalism in the Western Hemisphere.
The ADHS is pleased to announce that the editorship of its journal, *The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs*, will be taken over by Prof. Nancy D. Campbell (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Prof. David Herzberg (Buffalo) and Dr. Lucas Richert (Strathclyde). The society would also like to express its gratitude for the work that outgoing editor, […]
19-20 April 2018
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
In cooperation with Wellcome Trust
The Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare would like to invite papers for Cannabis: Global Histories at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow) on 19-20 April 2018.
One outcome of the recent Alcohol and Drugs History Society meeting (ADHS) in Utrecht was enthusiasm for a ‘histories of cannabis’ workshop/conference to gather together the increasing number of scholars researching the topic.
Paper proposals should be based on unpublished research and should include a 300-word abstract, including a brief CV (2 page maximum). The deadline is 1 September 2017. Participants would then be asked to submit papers of c.7000-8000 words by 15 January 2018. This will enable pre-circulation of papers and also early work on editing a collection of papers for publication.
The geographical location and timeframe are open, while topics may include but are not limited to:
policy and legislation
trafficking and terrorism
science and evidence
the rise of big cannabis
art and culture
Deadline for Proposals: 1 September 2017
Deadline for Papers: 15 January 2018
Please send your submissions or queries to :
Caroline Marley: email@example.com or
Lucas Richert: Lucas.Richert@strath.ac.uk
It’s my pleasure to promote the publication of an important Policy Brief on Cannabis by Kathleen Thompson. Over the past few years she has helped drive conversations about the consumption and control of marijuana. Her recent Policy Brief ought to be read by anyone and everyone! Here’s an extract.
LEGALIZATION OF CANNABIS: THE POLICY CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
By Kathleen Thompson, PhD, MSW, RSW, BA (Hons)
“The commitment by the Government of Canada to legalize cannabis
and cannabis products presents a complex range of socio-economic
challenges and opportunities. Creating the right legal and regulatory
framework to address the implications, both good and bad, will be
key in determining whether legalization is deemed successful public
The federal government plans to introduce cannabis legislation in the
coming spring session of Parliament. The legislation will be based on
the recommendations contained in a report issued on November 30 by
a Task Force of experts who studied the issue for the past year. The Task
Force received input from more than 30,000 Canadians, organizations
and professionals. Entitled “A Framework for the Legalization and
Regulation of Cannabis in Canada”, the report recommends allowing
more flexibility in the current federally controlled cannabis cultivation
model. Specifically, the federal government would regulate a safe and
responsible supply chain of cannabis.”
ABOUT KATHLEEN THOMPSON
Dr. Thompson has worked in health policy analysis and research as a bureaucrat and as a consultant for the last 25 years, specializing in the mental health, disability and corrections sectors.
In 2015, Dr. Thompson created the Cannabis Regulatory Research Group. The focus of the policy research group is on promoting collaborative public policy processes and evidenced-based research with the cannabis industry, governments, academia, civil society and at the United Nations. Additionally, Dr. Thompson consults with individuals and organizations on how to enter the legal cannabis industry.
From 2014–2016, Canadian health authorities were forced to address the issue of medical marijuana, even as activist groups and industry sought to influence the decision-making process and its place in the medical marketplace. First, the system was privatized, then issues of use and access, not to mention the full-on legalization of recreational marijuana, dominated headlines.
In light of last week’s shocking medical marijuana report, the policy debate will certainly grow more heated here in the UK. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform stated there is “good evidence” cannabis can help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Prof Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”
In a recently co-edited series on Canadian cannabis called Waiting to Inhale, it became clear that medical marijuana was a supremely complex policy issue. Some of the questions included, but were not limited to, the tenuous balance between consumers and regulators, Canadian physicians as unwanted gatekeepers, marijuana as a measure (and potential leveller) of inequities, and the major struggles between Big Cannabis and craft cannabis.
Looking ahead, the UK can learn lessons from other countries, including Canada.
Medical marijuana has been available in Canada since 2001, after the Canadian Court of Appeal declared that sufferers from epilepsy, AIDS, cancer and other ailments had a constitutional right to light up. Prohibition of this “medicine” was, in short, unconstitutional.
The original regulation that allowed patients to access medical marijuana in Canada was enacted in 2001 and called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). It allowed patients to possess dried marijuana flower/bud with a license issued by the government, provided that the application was signed off by a physician.
One strain of medicine was available for purchase from one single government supplier, Prairie Plant Systems, but optional licenses were available for patients to grow their own plants or to designate a grower to supply medicine to them.
The MMAR was repealed and replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), enacted on Apr. 1, 2014. With this, medical marijuana was officially opened for business. And the new rules generated a craze as dozens of new entrants jumped into the marketplace.
As of Aug. 24, 2016 the MMPR was replaced with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR). These new regulations included legislation that satisfied the latest Supreme Court decision to allow patients who possess a prescription from a doctor to grow their own medicine.
During this period, certain problems have hindered the medical marijuana industry’s growth in Canada, and Britain could learn from these.
These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.
The pushback against dispensaries has come from national and local law enforcement as well as the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association. Yet, the Cannabis Growers of Canada, a trade association representing “unlicensed” growers and dispensaries, have fought to be included at the table. Along with several other organizations, the CGC has lobbied the government to be included in the new legal regime.
As the New York Times put it, “a lobbying battle is raging between the new entrepreneurs and the licensed medical marijuana producers, who were the only ones allowed to grow and provide the plant under the old regulations. One side complains about being shut out by a politically connected cartel, while the other complains about unfair and damaging competition from those who are breaking the law.”
Medical marijuana has not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.
As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.
Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.
The result is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to, being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.
With more relaxed rules around medical marijuana (along with federal legislation looking to legalize cannabis),employers are wondering whether this will grow as an issue when it comes to pre-employment or on-the-job testing.
Aside from certain industries, such as transportation, most provinces don’t have clear policies or precedents for dealing with medical marijuana.
Besides that, workplace screening of marijuana is a mediocre indicator of performance in the workplace as it doesn’t actually test for impairment. Rather, it tests for by-products excreted from the body after the drug’s been ingested.
Looking ahead, human resource departments will be forced to develop a raft of new policies.
The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, this is twice the amount Health Canada considers safe.
An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance and has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.
Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as the number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.
The intersection of vaping and medical marijuana has also caused tension. As vaping has moved from a niche presence to mainstream practice, its unregulated nature – at the federal level – poses problems to policy-makers.
For example, the Ontario government exempted medical marijuana users in mid-November from a law that bans the use of e-cigarettes anywhere regular cigarettes are prohibited. These regulations were set to come into effect Jan. 1. This exemption meant medical marijuana users could vape in restaurants, at work or on playgrounds. However, Ontario’s associate health minister Dipika Damerla stated that the government would remove the exemption.
Local governments in various cities recently voted to implement a vaping bans in public spaces, with only a vape shop exemption predicated on “safety” concerns, specifically for the uninitiated e-cigarette user who doesn’t know how to install batteries in the device. But it was also predicated on the notion that buyers should be able to see what they’re getting, which is the same argument made by authorized medical cannabis users about the value of a local pot dispensary.
Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious.
Policy makers from government, industry leaders, and physicians will face considerable question marks. Cutting through all the haze won’t be an easy task, yet all participants, including the public, would be wise to use recent examples from Canada to light the way.
Ewww. The business of body parts and body products? What? Sounds gruesome. Kinda grisly and macabre. But, as we discuss assisted suicide, selling plasma, or Canadian transplant tourists, in the media the way that we conceptualize the buying and selling our bodies will be vital.
Just like the poster for Daybreakers says, our bodies are a crucial “natural resource.” Hopefully not for a Vampire elite.
In the newest edition of the Canadian Bulletin for Medical History, I review Banking on the Body , which opens with an account of Connie Culp, the first American woman to undergo a face transplant after having been severely disfigured by a shotgun blast to the head. Yeah, a shotgun!
The groundbreaking surgery in 2008 included a new mouth, nose, and cheeks and, afterwards, Culp was once again able to talk, smile, and smell. It was a transformation of Culp’s appearance, her quality of life, and so much more.
For Kara W. Swanson, an Associate Professor of Law at Northeastern University, this procedure transformed all human faces and signified that it was “now a body product” to be “harvested from one body for use by another” (1). Culp’s story is one of medical ingenuity and ultimately positive, but it also fits within a larger history where “…the human body has become a source of property and value, as well as a source of hope to the dying and the disfigured” (2).
The book is really quite excellent. By examining human milk, blood, and semen, it clarifies how bodies and body products have been organized and exchanged in the United States over the past century. In doing so, Swanson highlights the significance of two interrelated concepts – the banking metaphor and the gift/commodity dichotomy – and provides lessons for Canadian policymakers.
In 1937, Dr Bernard Fantus of Cook County Hospital in Chicago borrowed the term bank from the world of money and markets to describe the process of stored blood in his hospital. Blood banks were a fresh way to think about maintaining the American blood supply and, not surprisingly, came under fire for the implied association between body products and money.
Yet, Fantus’s aim was not to promote commercial enterprises. Amid the toil and deprivation of the Great Depression, Fantus sought to “subvert the market allocation of blood solely to those who could afford to pay.” Cannily, “…by treating blood as money, he was trying to circumvent the need to pay money for blood” (7-8). The term bank proved resilient and the banking metaphor has grown as the dominant way of understanding the tradable value of “disembodied fluid,” as well as other body parts (7).
While the two hundredth anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein inches closer and we continue to make advancements in the transplantation of human body parts, as in the case of Connie Culp, this sophisticated book has the potential to guide policy and frame future debates on bodies as both personal and civic property.
My review of Banking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk, and Sperm in Modern America can be read here.
Today I wrote a short viewpoint for the Star Phoenix. The article is on medical cannabis for Canadian veterans.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson has raised important questions about the increasing use of medical marijuana by Canadian military veterans.
As authorities contemplate enforcement actions and zoning bylaws relevant to marijuana dispensaries, and the federal Liberal government prepares for legalization in 2017, Ferguson is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the amount of medical cannabis being prescribed to veterans. He found the quantity prescribed was “poorly documented” and not always evidence-based.
Ferguson focused more broadly on how Veterans Affairs has been managing drug benefits for former servicemen and women, some of whom have complicated health issues and suffer from mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The AG made it plain that it’s time to cut through the haze and clarify marijuana policy for veterans.
The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, for Health Canada this is twice the amount it considers safe. An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance. It has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.
Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.
According to figures provided by Veterans Affairs, 112 veterans were reimbursed for medical marijuana in 2013-14, The following year, it was 628. By March 2016 that number has risen to 1,320.
Mike Blais, president and founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, has been abundantly clear about veterans’ consumption of medical marijuana: “I think there should be no cap, and that every case should be judged on individual merit and that the doctor’s prescription is paramount.”
At the same time, Canadian Forces have taken an alternative stand. In 2014, H.C. MacKay who was then the deputy surgeon general of the Canadian Forces, made clear that “with respect to marijuana use for medical purposes, we have identified what appears to be a very significant policy divergence between Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Armed Forces.”
In short, even though Veterans Affairs was funding medical marijuana, the military’s health service did not recognize it for medical use. With respect to PTSD, the Canadian Forces have also suggested there is insufficient evidence to authorize marijuana use and could even be detrimental to veterans’ health.
Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious. However, the auditor general report reaffirms how it and the policies surrounding the medical treatments for Canadian veterans require significant clarification.
Lucas Richert teaches the history of pharmaceutical and recreational drugs at the University of Saskatchewan.
Below the CBC covers the story.
THE CBC reported yesterday that there is tremendous turmoil within the Conservative Party over the legalization of marijuana. Without Stephen Harper, the issue has created controversy. The story below is by Stephen Dyer.
As candidates for the Conservative Party’s leadership race continue to line up, an issue has emerged that many thought the Tories had put to bed a long time ago — the legalization of marijuana.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper called marijuana “infinitely worse” than tobacco. “If we sell marijuana in stores like alcohol and tobacco, that will protect our kids? No one believes that,” he said.
But last week Maxime Bernier injected a slightly unexpected element into the race when he suggested he was leaning toward supporting a Liberal motion to legalize possession of marijuana for recreational use, as has already happened in four U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
“I think it must be time to have a discussion with that,” he told Rosemary Barton, host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. “I am happy that this government will bring a bill.”
“I am more for it” than against it, he said. “It depends how the government will do it. At the end I will decide whether I will vote for it or against it. But I am more toward — for — that.”
That position sets Bernier at odds with his party’s long-held opposition to loosening the laws against recreational use of marijuana.
According to Vote Compass, CBC’s voter-engagement survey, about 37 per cent of Conservative voters in the last election said they supported the full legalization of marijuana.
Another 38 per cent of Conservatives supported the NDP’s position of decriminalization of marijuana — a step short of legalization that would treat pot possession similar to a traffic offence.
Only a quarter of Conservative voters agreed with Harper’s position that marijuana possession should remain a criminal offence — a number that drops to 14 per cent across all voters.
These numbers suggest there is an audience within the Conservative Party for a more libertarian viewpoint — like the one Bernier is pitching.
On the other side of the debate is Bernier’s only other declared rival, former minister of labour Dr. Kellie Leitch. She is one of the few Conservatives who have continued to thunder against the impending legalization of marijuana since the party’s electoral defeat in October 2015.
“Health Canada spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to encourage Canadians to stop smoking. Now the government wants Canadian kids to have access to a drug to smoke, marijuana,” she told the House of Commons in February. “Parents are scared and concerned for their children. The government is sending out mixed signals.”
Indeed, the Liberals have been criticized by advocates of marijuana reform for maintaining the current criminal penalties while they take their time drafting a legalization plan, rather than moving immediately to decriminalize as an interim measure.
Also sending out mixed signals is interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.
As Harper’s health minister, Ambrose often found herself fronting the party’s anti-legalization approach, including the “reefer madness” strategy of linking marijuana use to mental illness.
So an interview she gave in January to Vancouver radio station CKNW caused considerable confusion about her position.
“The bottom line is there’s a huge faction of people in this country that want — that are mostly adults, to be frank — that want access to pot and they want it legalized and it’s for recreational purposes.”
Ambrose then said she hoped the Liberals would push ahead faster to regulate storefront pot dispensaries that have sprung up around Vancouver.
“I hope the faster they move on this the better, because the proliferation of pot dispensaries is quite large, so it has moved now not just in Vancouver but across the country, and they’re unregulated. So the sooner they can move on that, the better to protect kids.”
Conservatives later explained that Ambrose was merely recognizing the inevitability of legalization, and encouraging the Liberals to get on with it. But government supporters jumped on what they saw as another Conservative post-election reversal.
“Health minister who spent millions of your $ on misleading ads against pot wants us to legalize faster,” tweeted Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts.
It remains to be seen whether marijuana will become an issue in the Tory leadership race, or if members who dissent from the official party line will be able to express those views in Parliament.
Asked whether the party intends to allow a free vote when marijuana reform finally comes before the House, Ambrose’s director of communications Mike Storeshaw told CBC News no decision has been taken.
“Decisions on caucus positions for legislation aren’t made until there’s actually legislation to consider, and we don’t appear to be anywhere near that point yet.”
The city of Prince Albert, in northern Saskatchewan, has just released a report that tackles the staggeringly high rate of alcohol use/abuse among P.A’s residents. One of the recommendations to combat the alcohol is the legalization of marijuana. In a StarPhoenix report, Charles Hamilton discusses pot and alcohol policy in both big and small communities. It is called “Pot may curb alcohol abuse in P.A., report indicates.”
Hamilton’s full article can be found here, but here’s the beginning – and I weigh in, too.
Some Prince Albert city councillors are balking at a suggestion that legalized pot could help reduce binge drinking in the city.
The city released it’s “alcohol strategy” this week, a culmination of years of work to document and offer ways to combat problems with underage and binge drinking.
However, some are taken aback by the report’s suggestion that legalized pot could help curb chronic alcohol abuse.
“I personally have concerns,” Coun. Rick Orr said. “I think it’s another one of the items that we have to deal with from a community addictions point of view.”
Other suggestions in the report include eliminating the city’s drive-thru liquor stores, cutting back the business hours of establishments where liquor is sold, and having more cultural training and education among young people about the dangers of drinking.