Pubdate: Thu, 07 Mar 2002
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Pamela Fayerman


Fighting Tobacco Use While Sanctioning Medical Marijuana Displeases Doctors

Smoking marijuana is more harmful than smoking tobacco, and the federal 
government should not allow it to be used for medicinal purposes until it 
is available in a pill or some other form, a doctors' group says.

A delegation of doctors from the 1,400-member Physicians for a Smoke Free 
Canada will meet today with Health Canada officials in an attempt to 
convince them of the "hypocrisy" of sanctioning the use of smoked marijuana 
while at the same time spending hundreds of millions of dollars on 
anti-tobacco strategies.

Dr. Jim Walker, the Ottawa dermatologist who is a co-founder of the group, 
said the government is sending mixed messages to the public.

"There may be evidence of beneficial compounds in marijuana, but I 
guarantee if you burn the plant and inhale it, you are being exposed to 
toxic compounds. "If they were just going to sanction it for terminally ill 
people, that's one thing, but many people with chronic diseases are also 
included in this and so what they are doing is totally hypocritical, 
irresponsible and illogical from a scientific, health care point of view," 
Dr. Walker said.

Dr. Walker said his group's message at today's meeting will be that "smoke 
is a dirty-delivery system" and allowing the use of marijuana in the rolled 
"joint" form wreaks even more damage to health than cigarettes since 
marijuana smoke contains even more tar and cancer-causing toxins.

The meeting is taking place just as the first harvest of a 
government-sanctioned crop of marijuana is being tested for purity at 
undisclosed locations. In the next month, the first shipments of marijuana 
produced by a private grow-operation in an underground mine in Flin Flon, 
Man., will be sent to various researchers across the country.

Grants to study the effects of marijuana as a treatment for pain, nausea 
and other symptoms associated with various health conditions are being 
awarded through an $8-million fund for research projects and clinical 
trials over five years.

Andrew Swift, a spokesman for Health Canada, said he doesn't disagree with 
the physicians' group that smoking marijuana is as harmful to the 
respiratory and cardiovascular systems as smoking tobacco, if not more so.

"We certainly share the concerns of the doctors ... but our motivation is 
based on a desire to advance knowledge associated with its use for 
medicinal purposes and on compassionate grounds for those who are 
suffering," Mr. Swift said.

The government isn't advocating the use of marijuana, he said. "We have 
simply removed the legal barriers to possessing marijuana for medicinal 

Dr. Atul Kapur, president of the physicians' group, said there are so many 
pollutants and carcinogens in smoked marijuana that the government's 
position is untenable.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart