Pubdate: Thu, 11 Nov 2004
Source: NOW Magazine (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 NOW Communications Inc.
Author: Matt Mernagh
Cited: Health Canada Office of Cannabis Medical Access
Cited: Prairie Plant Systems
Cited: GW Pharmaceuticals
Cited: Alison Myrden
Cited: Canadians for Safe Access
Bookmark: (GW Pharmaceuticals)
Bookmark: (Canadians For Safe Access)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Big Pharma Budding into Medical Pot Plan With Pill for the Ill

The med grass community is fuming. Not over the Libs' lousy pot 
legislation, but over Health Canada's sneaky new regs requiring them to get 
their official pot at pharmacies. At first glance, doling out Prairie Plant 
Systems' stockpiled "dirtweed" through drug stores seems like a wonderful 
idea. But many users are worried that the plan is intended to grease the 
way for Big Pharma to monopolize the med-grass supply, thus ending licensed 
users' right to grow their own safe, cheap, effective stash, and 
threatening compassion clubs with police crackdowns.

There certainly is a lot of room for paranoia. The appearance of new 
players on the horizon -- like the UK's GW Pharmaceuticals, which is hoping 
to get the nod from Health Canada for its synthetic cannabis spray, Sativex 
- -- has only fed fears that the Libs are bent on a private-enterprise solution.

Then there's Canuck company CannaSat, backed by Moses Znaimer, which is 
angling to get permission for clinical trials of Prairie Plant Systems' 
"mine swag." What is freaking out medgrass folks big time is that the lead 
consultant for CannaSat is none other than pot's highest-profile courtroom 
champion, lawyer Alan Young.

Intrigue all around. Not least of which is Health Canada's stealth in 
ramming through the changes mandating drugstore purchase to the Medical 
Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR). Instead of allowing for parliamentary 
scrutiny, the department published the new regs in the parliamentary 
journal Canada Gazette. This makes these amendments to the Narcotics 
Control Act legit after a 30-day public comment period -- no debate in the 
House required.

Health Canada envisions a program in which cardholders "present their 
prescription to a pharmacist to obtain dried marihuana." Fewer than 100 
people now receive their "swag in a bag" from Prairie Plant Systems, and 
the sub-par product is delivered directly to their homes.

By contrast, some 8,000 Canadians use compassion clubs to acquire 
medicinal-grade marijuana to treat terminal or chronic illnesses. Much of 
this is illegal, though many clubs demand a doctor's prescription to score.

One million Canadians claim their marijuana use is medicinal. Many people 
seem to be using the drug-warrior slogan "Just say no" when it comes to 
pharmaceuticals. "Pot, not pills!" is their mantra.

Unlike taking large helpings of opiates, toking the reefer to treat my 
chronic debilitating oseteoarthritis allows me to go from disabled to able.

Toronto Compassion Club member, MS sufferer and MMAR cardholder Alison 
Myrden, a long-time activist, echoes these sentiments. The herb, when it's 
the right strain, gets her mobile, chatty and helps her keep her dinner 
down. The idea that the feds may be remodelling the system rattles her 
completely. "It's making me freak," she says, confiding that the added 
stress is causing her to vomit more than usual. "I'm panicked. I'm so 
worried that they're trying to phase out growing our own, and that they'll 
go after compassion clubs."

Currently, the feds have given 572 users permission to produce their own 
cannabis or designate someone to do it for them. Says Philippe Lucas of 
Canadians for Safe Access, "I want to make it clear that these people 
didn't join the program to become cannabis farmers. They want the right to 
have multiple strains, multiple methods of ingestion, and growing methods 
that are safe. Health Canada is not talking about doing something 
beneficial for the end user."

HC, for its part, vehemently denies that it'll ask for the return of the 
personal production licences. Still, HC spokesperson Cathryn Saunders does 
admit that the forthcoming amendments "could change the marijuana base."

It's Young's opinion that the community's fear of losing the right to grow 
is a very valid one, though he sees no move afoot to get rid of compassion 

Young, meanwhile, finds himself at the centre of a raging controversy 
because of his new corporate connection to CannaSat. The lack of 
information regarding CannaSat's intentions -- a press conference keeps 
being put off -- has sparked an incredible amount of speculation that a 
select few are going to corner the market. Some have accused Young and a 
group of MMAR cardholders who are supposedly investing in CannaSat of 
"selling out" or profiting off illnesses.

Young answers the criticisms by telling me, "CannaSat welcomes the 
decentralized system. We encourage and support what is currently available 
in production licences and designated producers, and I personally support 
compassion clubs.

"But Health Canada," he adds, "has already announced that its long-term 
goal is to get rid of all distribution except through pharmacies and 
Prairie Plant Systems. That's its policy."

CannaSat is talking with Health Canada about conducting clinical trials. 
"Because so little is known about cannabinoids, we feel it would be futile 
to start extracting synthetic compounds and derivatives. We value the 
plant." The goal of CannaSat is to do research on various strains to 
identify which can target certain symptoms.

By law, the marijuana for clinical trials has to come from Prairie Plant 
Systems, which currently provides only one strain.

While Canadians for Safe Access claims Prairie Plant Systems grass is 
unsafe, Young says he would not be using it if it were. "I'm convinced that 
the product is safe. Whether it's effective -- I'll work on that. It turns 
out the elevated levels of heavy metals (reported by Canadians for Safe 
Access earlier this year in the government-issued grass) are no different 
than those found in grocery store products."

The cannabis from Prairie Plant Systems has been improving since Canadians 
for Safe Access began its own independent tests without the consent of 
Health Canada. That's good news, but Lucas insists the weed is still unsafe 
and unusable. While its THC count has risen to 12 per cent, Lucas says the 
grind is too fine and the twigs too big.

GW Pharmaceutical grows its own marijuana in a controlled environment for 
its cannabinoid medicine, Sativex. Though the company can identify the 
exact plant that goes into each individual puffer, Sativex is not an herbal 

"There's no way for a precise amount of cannabis to be baked into, say, two 
mouthfuls of cake," says GW spokesperson Mark Rogerson. "It isn't a 
pharmaceutical. Anyone can bake a cake, but there's a huge problem with 

The company has sidestepped the whole medical marijuana debate by seeking 
to have Sativex approved like any other pharma product.

Its clinical trials have been submitted to Health Canada, and the company 
hopes to be issued a Drug Identification Number and a Notice of Compliance 
within the next year and a half. This would allow doctors to prescribe 
Sativex without going through the lengthy MMAR process and allow 
pharmacists to fill the script without requiring any of the proposed 
changes to the Narcotics Control Act.

In the future world of DIN numbers and dried marijuana distributed by 
pharmacies, will both agencies renew their efforts to shut us grassroots 
pioneers down?

Says Young, "Marijuana's a very complex plant. A great deal of research 
needs to be done. There is a role for the underground to play. Its members 
have a lot of experience."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake