Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jul 2003
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 The Vancouver Sun
Authors: Pamela Fayerman and Mark Kennedy
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


It's A 'Horrifying, Mind-Boggling' Decision, B.C. Medical Association Says

The federal government will immediately begin to ship medical marijuana to 
physicians who prescribe pot to their patients -- a move the head of the 
B.C. Medical Association calls "horrifying and mind-boggling."

"It boggles the mind. It sounds like a scheme thought up by a bureaucrat 
trying to make doctors' lives more difficult," BCMA president Dr. John 
Turner said Wednesday.

"I mean, what would a doctor do with 10 totes of marijuana in the office 
cupboard? You would have to hope nobody breaks in to your office. I think 
most doctors would be absolutely horrified by this."

Not only is the federal government willing to ship directly to doctors but 
also it will do so at bargain-basement prices. Hundreds of chronically ill 
patients who currently qualify for "medical marijuana" under Health 
Canada's program had better rush their order though, because within weeks, 
the government may revoke its official drug supplier status and resume its 
policy of keeping its stash -- grown at an old mine site in Flin Flon, Man. 
- -- under lock and key.

The marijuana is being offered to Canadians at $5 a gram, enough for about 
one or two joints, compared with black market street value prices of $10 to 
$25 a gram.

It will be regularly distributed by courier to a patient's doctor in 
30-gram bags and be limited to the amount that the physician says is 
required to treat the condition.

As well, the government will sell marijuana seeds -- $20 for a packet of 30 
- -- to sick Canadians to grow their own.

Federal Health Minister Anne McLellan, who announced the plan Wednesday, 
made it clear she is lukewarm about the new system. "Keep in mind that it 
was never the intention for us to supply the product," she told reporters.

She said the government wants to be convinced first of the medical benefits 
of marijuana, but its hand was forced by a court ruling earlier this year 
that essentially required it to meet a deadline to become a drug supplier 
- -- at least for now.

Turner said he has no idea how many doctors in B.C. prescribe marijuana for 
pain relief.

Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Dana Hanson said the medical 
profession believes there should be more scientific proof before medical 
marijuana is used as a treatment.

Hilary Black, founder of the B.C. Compassion Club, which has been supplying 
pot to the needy for several years, believes the federal decision is 
"really just a smokescreen" that Ottawa set up to "look like" it was 
complying with court decisions, but knowing full well that few doctors 
across the country would get involved in such a plan.

"Doctors are being told by the CMA (and regulatory bodies) not to put 
themselves in these positions and I understand why, because they really 
don't have training in herbal medicine," she said.

Black said of the 8,000 doctors in the province, about 200 have signed the 
forms the club requires to distribute pot to users who buy it from the 
non-profit club for $8 to $14 a gram. Poor customers can get one or two 
grams free each week. There are currently nearly 2,500 compassion club 
members. Black said she doesn't anticipate the number will go down just 
because of the Ottawa decision.

She said she understands why doctors would have concerns about security. 
"We've had break-ins in the past, although not for a few years because we 
have a great alarm system and this place is built up like a fortress now."

The long-awaited measure was unveiled after years of promises by the 
government to amend its policies on medical marijuana. But the details of 
the plan, and the fact that McLellan proceeded with it reluctantly, left 
critics fuming.

Advocates of more liberalized marijuana policies complained it will do 
little to ease the suffering of patients and may even make it more 
difficult for them to obtain pot. NDP MP Libby Davies called McLellan's 
plan a "shabby" response to the judicial ruling. And Senator Pierre Claude 
Nolin, who also supports freer access to the drug, said of the plan: "It's 
bad news. It's temporary. What's the next step? We don't know."

Canadian Alliance MP Rob Merrifield, whose party opposes medical marijuana 
until validated by studies that say it is an effective treatment, said 
instead of following the court's dictum, he said, the government should be 
tabling legislation for parliamentarians to decide the appropriate policy.

The government stressed Wednesday that its new plan is only an "interim 

Indeed, Ottawa would not have become a drug supplier for the sick if its 
hand were not forced by a court decision in January in which Ontario 
Superior Court Justice Sidney Lederman ruled it was unconstitutional that 
sick people who qualify for the medical marijuana exemption must turn to 
illegal means to buy it because Health Canada won't supply it to them.

The regulations allow certain patients with chronic or terminal illnesses 
to apply to Health Canada for permission to use marijuana. Their 
applications must be signed by a doctor. So far, 1,145 people have applied 
and 582 have qualified. They are allowed to grow marijuana on their own or 
have another approved grower do it for them.

When then-health minister Allan Rock launched the program two years ago, he 
made it clear that sick people could also buy it from the government.

But when McLellan replaced him in January 2002, she said the Flin Flon crop 
would only be supplied to people in clinical research trials to determine 
if it was true that pot helps sick people. Those trials will proceed in 
Canada this fall.

Lederman gave the government six months -- which ended Wednesday -- to come 
up with new regulations. The government appealed that ruling, but the 
hearing isn't until July 29 and 30. Federal officials repeatedly refused to 
say if they will stop supplying medical marijuana if the government wins 
its appeal.
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