Pubdate: Tue, 25 Feb 2003
Source: Canadian Online Explorer
Copyright: 2003 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Lisa Schlein


GENEVA (CP) - An official with the UN drug watchdog questions whether 
Canada is too hasty in allowing the medical use of marijuana but praised 
Ottawa for having legislation in place to control a variety of other narcotics.

"We have to be much more positive about Canada this year because it has 
finally put all the psychotropic substances under its national law," says 
Herbert Schaepe, secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board.

Canada now "fully complies" with the Convention on Psychotropic Substances 
of 1971, which obliges governments to introduce control measures such as 
licensing of companies, import-export authorizations, prescription 
requirements and inspections.

The board had said last year that Canada was the only developed country 
that failed to live up to the treaty, and this "could adversely affect 
efforts to control quite a number of substances." Psychotropic drugs such 
as benzodiazepines - familiarly known as "bennies" - phenobarbital and 
amphetamines were allowed to make their way through Canada to illicit 
markets in the United States as a result, it said.

"So, I think with these changes and with the co-operation between the 
police authorities of Canada and the United States, this is something which 
is probably now solved," Schaepe said.

The board is part of the UN International Drug Control Program based in 
Vienna, Austria. It released its latest annual report on the global drug 
control situation on Wednesday. A key point is that far from making poor 
countries rich, illicit drug production keeps most people in developing 
countries trapped in poverty.

As for North America, the report says cannabis remains the most common drug 
of abuse and is widely available in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Schaepe said a significant amount of cannabis seized in the United States 
"is coming from Canada where probably the attitude of the authorities is 
more liberal than on the other side of the border."

The board is concerned that the Canadian government may be jumping the gun 
on "the medical use of cannabis," he said, and may be making some 
exceptions in this regard "before research into the supposed medical 
benefits of cannabis has been completed."

"What we do not understand is why the legislators cannot wait until this 
medical research comes up with definite results."

Two years ago, a Canadian court sided with an epileptic who said he needed 
marijuana to control his seizures. In response, Ottawa adopted regulations 
that allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons under certain 

But the regulations have been criticized for being cumbersome and unfair, 
and there have been further court rulings and appeals that left an air of 
uncertainty over Canadian laws on marijuana.

Schaepe also expressed misgivings about Vancouver's proposed safe-injection 
sites for drug users.

"We think it is not in line with international conventions when the 
government or local governments just condones the abuse of substances which 
are coming from the illicit market and opens up places where this can be 
done," he said.

Vancouver officials explained that the city wants to incorporate 
harm-reduction measures, such as better health treatment for addicts, in 
its drug strategy which includes prevention, treatment and enforcement.

The UN report notes that after the terrorist attacks in the United States 
on Sept. 11, 2001, the amount of drugs seized at airports and border 
crossings in both Canada and the United States "decreased considerably."

The board says "enhanced border controls" resulted in "reduced availability 
of cocaine and heroin on illicit markets" - which has generally led to 
increased prices.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom