Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jul 2003
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Dennis Bueckert


OTTAWA  (CP)  - A Toronto doctor who has AIDS has resigned from Health 
Canada's  advisory  committee  on medical marijuana, saying he doesn't 
trust Health Minister Anne McLellan to handle the file.

Greg  Robinson,  one  of  two  people  with  serious  illnesses on the 
committee, is upset by McLellan's decision to terminate a study by the 
Community  Research  Initiative  of  Toronto  (CRIT)  into  the use of 
cannabis  as an appetite stimulant. CRIT had spent about $800,000 of a 
$2-million  grant  before its funding was terminated in March, just as 
it  was  about  to  begin  clinical  trials.  It  has since closed its offices.

Robinson says he reluctantly resorted to smoking marijuana even though 
he  hates  the  so-called  "high,"  because  it allows him to stem his 
weight loss. But he worries about side effects.

"They just shut the research down and some of us are waiting anxiously 
to  find  out  if what we're doing to ourselves is really helping," he said.

He  said he strongly suspects there's a benefit in his case, but would 
like  scientific evidence. If CRIT's work was unsatisfactory, the work 
should be carried on by some other group he said.

"I  don't  have  any  appetite  left  with  my disease. I had no other 
options. I went the usual medical route and I ended up a zombie.

"This  way I can take a small puff, half a joint, a whole joint before 
dinner. I do not like being stoned."

McLellan  said  in  an  interview  that CRIT is being audited, and its 
funding won't be renewed.

"There  have  been  concerns  identified  by  my  officials  and those 
concerns are being followed up," she said.

The  health  minister  said CRIT's work hasn't been wasted, and Health 
Canada  may  fund other groups to build on it. She said other cannabis 
research projects are proceeding.

However  there  is  only  one other marijuana project underway, and it 
deals  with  the  effects  of  cannabis  on  pain.  Other projects are 
expected but haven't been approved.

"The  loss  of  CRIT as the only AIDS organization in Canada dedicated 
solely  to  HIV/AIDS community-based research, is a tragedy," Robinson said 
in his letter of resignation to McLellan.

Robinson   also   disagrees  with  McLellan's  plan  to  have  doctors 
distribute  medical  marijuana,  saying  the  drug  should be provided 
through pharmacists and compassion clubs.

The  Canadian  Medical  Association  has  been  highly critical of the 
proposed  system,  saying  doctors  are being forced to provide a drug 
whose benefits have not been proven in clinical trials.

Robinson  said  Health  Canada  has  created  a  "catch 22" dilemma by 
insisting  on  clinical  evidence  before approving marijuana use, but 
thwarting the clinical trials needed to get the evidence.

"I  no  longer have faith in your ability to understand compassion for 
seriously and chronically ill patients," his letter said.

McLellan  insisted  Health  Canada  is  firmly  committed  to clinical 
research into the possible benefits of cannabis.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens