Legalizing weed could be better than opening Canada to more opiates
By Sophie Isbister, Staff Writer
Times, they are a-changin’. I never would have thought that I’d see marijuana legalized in Washington and Colorado before seeing it decriminalized here in Vancouver (or “Vansterdam,” as we’re known internationally). No, it seems in Canada we’re turning the clock backwards with regard to our drug policy, what with Harper’s Conservatives pushing through mandatory minimum prison sentences for petty marijuana crimes. And it seems now that the Conservatives want to pat their pharmaceutical buddies on the back with a new decision recently made about OxyContin.
You may have heard of OxyContin: it’s the powerful prescription opiate derived from oxycodone, and it’s also known as “hillbilly heroin.” It’s called that because oxycodone is really close to morphine, and is often easier and cheaper to get on the streets than heroin. Pharmaceuticals like Oxy have fast become a drug of choice for many addicts, both those with legitimate prescriptions and those who seek out the drug on the black market—that is, until it was phased out in early 2012 by its maker Purdue Pharma and replaced with a version of the drug that is supposedly harder to abuse.
The Oxy issue is on the table again, as the drug’s Canadian patent expired on November 25, opening up the market for generic (cheaper) versions. Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has the opportunity to block these generics from flooding Canadian pharmacies, but says she won’t. She stated in a letter to provincial health ministers, as reported by the National Post, that she is concerned foremost with Canadians who legitimately need access to this drug for pain management, stating that “As a health minister I have to weigh the needs of patients first.”
Aglukkaq’s stance is controversial. Health ministers from the provinces and territories claim a “slippery slope” argument that the cheaper and more readily available oxycodone is, the more it will turn up on our city’s streets. Aglukkaq herself says there are a myriad of other drugs in the same category as Oxy and cities have always had to deal with multi-faceted issues of drug abuse. Citizens and Internet commenters, myself included, are all wondering the same thing: why would our government continue to open doors for pharmaceuticals when overwhelming public opinion points to the legalization of marijuana?
Ottawa is drastically skewed in its view on the legality of substances. Legislators are getting ready to allow who knows how many generic versions of a substance that is already known to be harmful and addictive, yet they continue to fight a foolish war against a plant with no reported deaths associated with its use. The medicinal benefits of marijuana have long been proven in pain management and lifestyle improvement for people with multiple sclerosis, cancer, glaucoma, and epilepsy, among others. OxyContin, on the other hand, has proven to be habit forming, causing the body to become physically dependent on the opiate, which makes it a poor choice for long-term use. Recreationally, it puts it right up there with street heroin, as its nickname would suggest.
While it is possible for patients to access medical marijuana legally, much in the same way a patient would access OxyContin, it’s my opinion that cannabis is currently medically underutilized. I also think that it should be completely decriminalized; people should have the right to grow it for personal use in their own home without fearing jail time. Economists and criminologists overwhelmingly support the decriminalization of marijuana. I think it’s high time (no pun intended) we start looking at marijuana as medicine—but then, where would the pharmaceutical companies get their big paycheques from?