Rona Ambrose: “Never in the history of Canada has a drug become a medicine because a judge has deemed it so.”
By: Hugh Verrier on
Rona Ambrose, Conservative MP for Edmonton—Spruce Grove, in a press conference on June 11, 2015
It’s true that courts do not turn drugs into medicine. And keeping with history, contrary to what is being implied, the court did not do this in the latest ruling on marijuana.FactsCan Score: True
In June, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on medical marijuana. Previously, the law only allowed the use of dried marijuana – which must be smoked – for medical purposes. The court found laws prohibiting the medical use of other forms of marijuana, like edibles, to be unconstitutional.
We know that in this latest case, judges did not make a medicine of marijuana, but what’s the history? Has a judge ever deemed a drug to be a medicine?
Just as the Supreme Court did not deem non-dried marijuana to be a medicine in R. v. Smith, judges have not previously “deemed” other drugs to be a medicine either.
There are, however, precedents in which Canadian courts have reversed government regulations on medical marijuana, or intervened in other health policy issues.
Trudo Lemmens, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Toronto, explained “a judge will never ‘deem’ something a medicine just like that. But judges can engage in a reasonableness assessment of governmental action. And there are precedents that are somewhat connected to this case.”
Lemmens gave the example of the 2011 case, Canada (AG) v. PHS Community Services Society, where the Supreme Court unanimously reversed a government decision to refuse to continue exempting a safe injection site. While this is not about marijuana or medicine, it is a case of the court reversing a government public health decision, on the grounds that such a decision was arbitrary and infringed on constitutional rights.
Another prominent example is the 2000 case, R. v. Parker, where the Ontario Court of Appeal found the then-existing blanket prohibition on marijuana unconstitutional. The ruling followed similar logic to R. v. Smith. It found that a blanket prohibition precluded any possible medical uses, and potentially violated the constitutional rights of those in need of treatment.
For the sake of argument, say we accept that the Supreme Court did decide non-dried marijuana is a medicine in R. v. Smith. Then we must also accept that the Ontario Court of Appeal did so in R. v. Parker. This would disprove the claim that the current case is the first instance of a judge deeming marijuana – or any other drug – a medicine, and Ambrose’s claim would be false. At any rate, the courts didn’t do this in either case.
Ambrose is correct that no previous case saw “a drug become a medicine because a judge has deemed it so.” After this latest court ruling, it is still true.