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Medicinal marijuana goes public

The Story

George Washington used it for toothaches. Queen Victoria used it for menstrual cramps. And in 1996 Brenda Rochford uses marijuana to relieve the chronic pain of a rare, debilitating disease. Marijuana has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries, and is gaining prominence as "buyers clubs" spring up across North America. But today marijuana is against the law. Unlike George and Victoria, Brenda Rochford has been arrested twice. CBC's The Health Show takes a look at medicinal marijuana.

Medium: Television
Program: The Health Show
Broadcast Date: Nov. 27, 1996
Guests: Lester Grinspoon, Harold Kalant, Helen Reading, Brenda Rochford
Reporter: Celina Bell
Duration: 14:09

Did You know?

• Brenda Rochford has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a defect in the connective tissue that supports the skin, muscles and ligaments. It is caused by faulty collagen, the protein that adds strength and elasticity to connective tissue. The syndrome causes fragile skin, unstable joints and organ damage. Rochford's symptoms include severe joint pain, muscle spasms and glaucoma. The syndrome affects up to one in 5,000 people.

• Rochford says marijuana keeps her symptoms at bay and eases the depression they cause. She and her partner Wayne Harms were busted for marijuana possession twice. After the second arrest, in September 1994, their lawyer launched a constitutional challenge. The charges against them were immediately withdrawn.

• Cannabis has a long history of medical use, particularly in eastern countries like India. In the 1840s a British commission was sent there to investigate the medicinal uses of cannabis, and soon after it became a common prescription medicine in England and a folk medicine in North America. This continued until the 1930s when movies and books associated marijuana with miscreants, opium dens and lunacy, and its use was soon outlawed.

• In 1996 there were two accepted uses for medicinal marijuana: relief of nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, and improvement of appetite in AIDS patients. To use marijuana for either purpose, patients had to apply to the courts for a legal exemption from possession laws. Even if this was obtained, there was no legal source to obtain the marijuana.

• To provide medical users with marijuana, a number of "buyers clubs" opened -- illegally -- in Canada and the United States. They included Oakland's Bud Bar, Santa Cruz's Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Compassion Club and Medical Marijuana Society in Vancouver. Most have been repeatedly raided by police, though in recent years authorities have chosen to turn a blind eye towards many such clubs.


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