JOURNAL ARTICLE

Moral regulation and the presumption of guilt in Health Canada's medical cannabis policy and practice

Philippe Lucas
International Journal on Drug Policy 2009, 20 (4): 296-303
19124233
This paper is a sociological examination of policies and practices in Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Division (MMAD) that presume the illicit intentions and inherent "guilt" of medical cannabis users, hampering safe access to a medicine to which many are legally entitled, and raising doubts about this federal programme's overall effectiveness and constitutional legitimacy. Beginning with a brief historical overview of Canada's federal medical cannabis programme, this paper examines the failure of the MMAD to meet the needs of many sick and suffering Canadians through Hunt's [Hunt, A. (1999). Governing morals: A social history of moral regulation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press] work on moral regulation and Wodak's [Wodak, A. (2007). Ethics and drug policy. Psychiatry, 6(2), 59-62] critique of "deontological" drug policy strategies. I then cite Tupper's [Tupper, K. W. (2007). The globalization of ayahuasca: Harm reduction or benefit maximization? International Journal of Drug Policy, doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2006.11.001] argument that shifting to a generative metaphor that constructs certain entheogenic substances as potentially useful "tools" rather than regulating them through inherently moralistic prohibitionist policies would better serve public health, and incorporate Young's [Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press] theories of domination and oppression to examine the rise of community-base medical cannabis dispensaries as "new social movements". First-hand accounts by medical cannabis patients, federally funded studies, and internal Health Canada communication and documents suggest that current federal policies and practices are blocking safe access to this herbal medicine. The community-based dispensary model of medical cannabis access is a patient-centered "new social movement" that mitigates the stigmatization and moral regulation of their member-clients by creating opportunities for engagement, empowerment and joint knowledge creation. In light of ongoing Charter challenges and patient criticism, the survival of this federal programme will depend on the government's ability to shift away from policies based on the oppression and moral regulation, and towards consequentialist policies that balance harm reduction and benefit maximization. The effectiveness of such an approach is exemplified by the success of the community-based dispensary model which is currently producing more peer-reviewed research and supplying medical cannabis to a far greater number of patients than Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Division.

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