Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jul 2003
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 Times Colonist
Author: Pamela Fayerman and Mark Kennedy, Canwest News Service
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


BCMA Head Decries Federal Marijuana Shipments To Doctors

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 

"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 into 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  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 to the 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 policy."

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 blasted the government 
for  inadequate regulations on how to distribute medical marijuana. He 
ruled  it  was  unconstitutional  that sick people who qualify for the 
medical  marijuana  exemption must turn to illegal means to buy it off the 
street 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 

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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager