McGill, News

Potential national marijuana legislation to be voted on in Spring 2017

Following a history of prohibition and criminalization since 1923, the legalization of marijuana  will soon be brought to a vote in Canada. The Liberal government will be announcing their new legislation in the spring of 2017, in line with their current platform.

A nine-member task force of experts was formed to advise the Canadian government on how to best move forward with its plan to legalize marijuana. The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation has engaged with the public, government officials, indigenous peoples, youth, and health experts across Canada. Dr. Mark Ware, a cannabinoid researcher and a professor of Family Medicine at McGill, is the vice-chair of the task force. According to Ware, the discussion is not whether Canada should legalize marijuana, but how to best legalize it.

“We haven’t made any recommendations,” Dr. Ware said. “We are still deliberating on the input that we’ve received.”

Dr. Caleb Abaka Bouhairie, a McGill Medicine alumni and a Montreal physician, believes that marijuana may hold promise for patients suffering from a variety of diseases.  

“From a medicinal perspective, there is a growing body of literature that describes both their harmful and their potentially beneficial effects [in treatments for] epilepsy, certain chronic pain disorders, anorexia, cachexia, glaucoma, and refractory nausea,” Dr. Bouhairie wrote in an email to The Tribune.

Kapil Sareen-Khanna, U3 Medicine, says that the medical community has yet to see a trend of long-term damage from marijuana use.  

“[Decades after the onset of widespread cigarette use, we’ve seen] women’s lung cancer and heart disease rates still just hitting the plateau and trying to curve downwards [whereas] men’s have started to curve down earlier,” Sareen-Khanna said. “But with weed, we haven’t seen any huge associations [in trends].”

According to Sareen-Khanna, the arguments against the legalization of marijuana are similar to those that can be made against other legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco: Increased potential for substance abuse, adverse side-effects, and the risk of addiction. However, marijuana has medicinal properties and has significantly less acute, chronic, and [physiological] effects in comparison to alcohol and tobacco.

“The active compounds [in marijuana] are called cannabinoids,” Sareen-Khanna said. “Cannabinoids act on cannabinoid receptors and we have them in our gut and […] in our brain. In the gut […], but also in the immune system of the gut, and in the brain it’s in areas that control nausea, vomiting, pain, etcetera. [They’ve] already started to study and treat chronic pain [….] Officially, it’s not really approved for anything, medical marijuana.”

Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, a rheumatologist and pain researcher at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, and a professor of medicine at McGill, commented on the uncertainties that surround marijuana.

“This is a lot of basic scientific knowledge about the cannabinoid system,” Dr. Fitzcharles said. “However, it is a leap of faith to jump from [our understanding of] that system to the use of marijuana in the patient population.”

Dr. Fitzcharles explained that despite the growing body of scientific literature, there is still not enough clinical evidence that supports the claim used by proponents of legalization that marijuana-based medicines are effective and useful for large populations of people.

“The medical world has not yet done its due diligence to provide the evidence for the safety of using marijuana in many conditions, particularly in the rheumatic diseases,” Dr. Fitzcharles said. “We have no knowledge of what marijuana combined with other drugs would do, let alone what marijuana does on its own.”

According to Dr. Fitzcharles, the prohibition of marijuana has presented a challenge to necessary scientific research. She believes that without such clinical evidence, researchers cannot expect to be adequately educated about the effects of marijuana.

“It’s been extremely difficult,” Dr.  Fitzcharles said. “There is no question that with all the legalities and illegalities of marijuana, the clinical researchers have had great difficulties with moving ahead with research. As physicians who base our management on evidence, we have to advocate for the good and proper research”

Andrew DiNunzio, U4 Science, feels that marijuana is already widely accessible for recreational users in Montreal.

“Every Sunday, if you go to Tam-Tams [in Mount Royal Park], you can smell the weed, and the cops are right there,” DiNunzio said. “People smoke there all the time. I don’t think things will be much different under the new law.”

McGill Director of Internal Communications, Doug Sweet, stated that it is too early to speculate on how the legalization of marijuana will affect the university campus. In connection with the movement towards a smoke-free campus, Sweet said that all forms of smoking will be covered by the university’s smoking policy.

“We presume that whatever smoking policy will be in effect at McGill at the time will apply,” Sweet said.

According to Dr. Fitzcharles, with Spring 2017 fast approaching, the public needs to be mindful that with the advent of the new marijuana legislation comes a wave of new concerns.

“The public generally believes that marijuana is safe and is not addictive […] most importantly, that you are safe to drive,” Dr. Fitzcharles said. “We must acknowledge that marijuana is not a panacea. It’s not an agent without any negative consequences.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sareen-Khanna said that marijuana has only medicinal properties while alcohol and tobacco do not. In fact, he specified that alcohol and tobacco have greater acute, chronic, and physiological effects than marijuana. In addition, a previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Sareen-Khanna as saying cannaboids work in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear and anxiety. In fact, Sareen-Khanna said cannaboids work in the cannaboid receptors in the gut and the brain.

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  1. Father was heavily medicated at the McGill Post Polio Syndrome clinic for years.

    His life changed for the better when he discovered CBD oil, prescribed by a 400$ Skype Vancouver doctor.

    His only medication today is a number 4 cap of CBD oil nightime.

    Cannabis should be free to grow for anyone who wishes…

    Don’t hold your breath but, as greed, corruption and ignorance will prevail.

  2. Without legalization we will be at a disadvantage. Real research is vital to the medical community. There are literally thousands of studies already published on the web by highly regarded scientists in other countries. We need to be looking at these studies. I think that asking long term users to come forth and be subjects would help with the study of the long term effects of cannabis ingestion. These individuals could also help in the understanding of what happens to the human brain later in life, when someone starts using cannabis at a young age. These fears need to be alleviated.

  3. Purple Mary Jane

    Legalizing and regulating marijuana has many long term benefits. One of them being that it comes from a trusted source. You don’t have to worry that it was sprayed with different chemicals during growth process. Second of all, it will help make studies/trials on different diseases and determine the outcomes after marijuana medication. Third of all. the stores operating the sales will make EASILY SIX FIGURES SALES DAILY.

  4. Covey WhiteGold

    Maybe people writing articles should stop stating addiction. It has been shown time
    and time again, there is NO physical Dependence. The Media keeps using words
    such as addiction but habitual is the worst case scenario.
    They also like to use the world Overdose, yet no one has ever died of Overdose. They merely
    fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed with sometimes a mild case of
    drowsiness that disappears within hours up to a few days. What Overdose have
    you ever seen that people become unconscious and what level of addiction have
    you seen that has no physical part? It is the safest medicine or recreational
    plant anyone can consume and that has been proven.

    • Hi Covey,
      I just want to clarify that saying there is “NO physical dependance” is incorrect. It has both psychological and some physical addictive properties, as noted by well documented withdrawal symptoms (see below).
      That being said, it is of course less addictive than many other drugs (alcohol, tobacco, opiates etc), and often when talking about what is legal vs illegal, people often forget we have worse substances in terms of toxicity (alcohol, tobacco) than cannabis that are legal. As you highlighted, legislators have typically ignored the significantly less acute and chronic toxicity of cannabis vs those other “legal” recreational drugs, wherein lies the real issue – the legality/illegality of a substance is often a product of politics and fear mongering over current scientific evidence.

      [ is an evidence based resource – on the addiction potential of cannabis]
      “Cannabis withdrawal — Diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal, below, were added to DSM-5
      ●Cessation of cannabis use that has been heavy and prolonged (ie, usually daily or almost daily over a period of at least a few months)
      ●Three or more of the following signs and symptoms develop within approximately one week after the cannabis cessation:
      •Irritability, anger, or aggression
      •Nervousness or anxiety
      •Sleep difficulty (eg, insomnia, disturbing dreams)
      •Decreased appetite or weight loss
      •Depressed mood
      •At least one of the following physical symptoms causing significant discomfort: abdominal pain, shakiness/tremors, sweating, fever, chills, or headache
      ●The signs or symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
      ●The signs or symptoms are not attributable to another medical condition and are not better explained by another mental disorder, including intoxication or withdrawal from another substance”

      • Covey WhiteGold

        I would like to clarify by disagreement in your statement
        that their is Physical Dependence. Can’t say I’ve examined the study you’ve
        claimed, can you give me references? I’ve seen over the years, Cannabis be
        moved less than Coffee which does cause all the symptoms you’ve described. I
        can personally attest to going to college two different times in my life and
        choosing to quit Cannabis and tobacco at the same time. Mild irritableness
        lasted maybe less than a day with no physical symptoms, yet, Cigarettes lasted
        months of difficulty to finally be fee of them. Tobacco is clearly physical
        while Cannabis was less then Coffee with NO headaches or physical discomfort.
        Biting my nails has been more difficult than choosing to quit Cannabis. Please
        site your references to these claims you’ve made so we can correct the truth.

        • Hi Covey, first off, what I wrote above comes directly from the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), essentially THE go-to “text book” of psychiatry, which is an 2013 update to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) classification and diagnostic tool. You can easily find a PDF of that and as Psychiatry is the field that tends to deal with addiction the most, and thus this is the place to look. Whether or not new research will come out which shows otherwise, I am not the person to ask, but if we are talking clinically, cannabis is addictive both psychologically and physiologically (albeit to differing degrees). As we both agree however, it is seemingly quite a bit less physiologically addictive than its counter-parts but it still falls under that definition. You can throw your own anecdotes out all you like, it really comes down to medical consensus, which is currently as I stated.

          However (I think we can both agree on this), the main point in the article I was trying to make was that it does not equate in terms of harmful physiological effects, (both acute or chronic), nor does it equate in terms of degree of addiction (physiologic and arguably even psychologic) compared to our legal counterparts, alcohol and tobacco, and thus why should something relatively less harmful remain illegal, when the evidence doesn’t match the claims?

          (The link I posted is a resource called UpToDate, for which I assumed you were a McGill student and could access it. If you are, you can go here: then on your right hand side you can click “UpToDate” and sign in with your McGill account and essentially look up ‘cannabis use disorder’ or whatever else you please. They list their references under each page.)

          • Thank you for this, I would check out the link but I’m not a student. If we choose to use the word addiction, there should at least be a physical withdrawal that’s noticeable.
            It’s like when the media uses the word Overdose when we all know no one actually dies or can die from the overdose of Cannabis. They should refer to need of vomiting and drowsiness and at most sleep for days. To me, it’s just another means to influence ignorant people who just don’t know the truth and will never hear it in most cases because of manipulation of facts.

      • Covey WhiteGold

        Putting a dead end link to a log in precedence really doesn’t help our conversation since I have no log in to verify this claim you’ve made.

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