Dr. Perry Kendall is B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer.

Dr. Perry Kendall is B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer.

B.C.’s top doc counters feds on medical marijuana

Dr. Perry Kendall cites pot benefits for certain conditions, makes case for regulated cannabis market

B.C.’s provincial health officer is defending the value of marijuana as a medicine after federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose urged the City of Vancouver to shut down all local pot dispensaries rather than regulating them.

Dr. Perry Kendall took issue with various federal policies on pot in an interview with Black Press, particularly Ambrose’s suggestion marijuana doesn’t have the utility of approved pharmaceuticals.

He said there’s “a growing body of evidence” that cannabis is effective as an appetite stimulant, an anti-nauseant and as a chronic pain killer, including against spastic neurological conditions like ALS, among others.

And he suggested access to medical marijuana saves lives when it supplants other pain control drugs that are more dangerous and addictive.

“The U.S. states that have had medical cannabis access provisions actually have about a 20 per cent lower overdose death rate from opioid prescriptions than states that don’t have access to medical cannabis,” he said.

“It’s probably a lot less dangerous than opioids are – less than morphine would be or Oxycodone, which can be highly addictive and quite lethal.”

Unlike either alcohol or opiates, Kendall noted, “there is no lethal dose of cannabis.”

He said the Supreme Court of Canada was sufficiently persuaded 10 years ago that a medical exemption for marijuana was justified and Health Canada’s own website outlines various studies on its medical applications, which he said range from “weak” research to “quite convincing.”

Kendall said there’s also growing evidence that some young children who suffer from seizure conditions respond better to cannabis than any other medication.

He acknowledged that doctors and their professional organizations are divided on their comfort level in prescribing medical pot, how to make those decisions and the liabilities that may flow.

Ambrose’s central argument against storefront dispensaries is that they normalize and encourage pot use for teens who are more vulnerable to its risks.

Kendall agreed developing young minds shouldn’t be exposed to pot – or alcohol or other drugs.

He said young people who use any of those substances heavily at an early age are at greater risk for future problems.

“There is some evidence that links heavier cannabis use at a younger age with psychosis and perhaps early onset schizophrenia,” Kendall said, adding it’s unclear if the link is causal or reflects users who are self-medicating their existing conditions.

“Infrequent use, as with alcohol, is certainly less harmful.”

He noted Colorado has seen a huge increase in the number of medical marijuana dispensaries over several years yet marijuana use among youth has actually declined slightly.

Kendall made the comments as final arguments were set to begin Thursday in a court challenge of new medical marijuana regulations imposed by the federal government to outlaw home growing by approved users and force them to buy only from licensed commercial producers.

Asked if he takes issue with any elements of the federal policy on medical marijuana, Kendall listed the ban on home grows, which he said has pushed up the price of the drug for low income patients.

He also took aim at the federal policy that medical pot only be sold in the form of dried leaves, which is also being challenged in court.

“Smoking is not the best way of getting marijuana because you get all the combustion products in your lungs,” Kendall said, noting many users would prefer to buy oils, capsules or edible products, which may also offer a more gradual delivery of the active ingredients.

He cautioned that legalization in Colorado has brought overdose “misadventures” because the state didn’t adequately regulate edibles like pot brownies.

“You need some quality control over what’s in it, how much is in it and how much you’d eat of it,” he said.

Another lesson from Washington State’s legalization experience, he said, is that differential taxes have made recreational pot much more expensive than medical marijuana sold by dispensaries, which users now favour as a result.

Kendall has been an advocate in the past of some form of legalization and he isn’t wavering now.

“It would be preferable to create a regulatory framework to direct product to informed adults who wanted to use it and are going to use it anyway,” he said. “You could control the price, you could tax it, you could hopefully develop a legitimate market and potentially take it out of the hands of criminal gangs.”

Restrictions can ban advertising and otherwise reduce access to children, but Kendall said teens are likely to obtain marijuana and alcohol one way or another.

“Just because kids get alcohol doesn’t mean to say adults shouldn’t be able to buy it if they want to,” he said, adding adults also abuse alcohol at a significant cost to society.

“Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is probably one of the most easily preventable forms of developmental disability in babies. But we don’t ban alcohol because some people use it irresponsibly.”

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The Binche Fishing Derby at Stuart Lake is fast approaching. (Binche Fishing Derby Facebook photo)
Binche shares excitement for upcoming fishing derby

“It’s more than just fishing,” says Dave Birdi

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Local youth vaccination clinics underway

Pfizer vaccine will be used

Priya Sharma. (Submitted)
Column: Why ultimatums don’t work

By Priya Sharma It is a common misconception that people can choose… Continue reading

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Most Read