Pubdate: Sat, 22 Mar 2008
Source: Cowichan News Leader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Cowichan News Leader
Cited: Canadians for Safe Access
Cited: Vancouver Island Compassion Society
Referenced: American College of Physicians position paper
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal - Canada)


Since the current incarnation of Canada's medical marijuana program 
was established, doctors have been forced by Health Canada to act as 
sentinels for a product whose complexities, methods of delivery and 
side effects they have little firsthand information.

It's a situation that leaves many physicians hesitant to sign their 
names to the documents required for patients to access government pot.

"Our No. 1 complaint is that patients can't find a doctor who will 
endorse their MMAD application," says Eric Nash of Duncan's Island Harvest.

However, physicians' reluctance often has more to do with the 
bureaucratic reach of Health Canada than it does with their own 
personal misgivings about prescribing a drug that remains in legal limbo.

The Canadian Medical Association is slowly coming around to 
recognizing the valuable role medical cannabis can play in helping 
users achieve a higher quality of life.

But as recently as 2003 then-CMA president Dana Hanson said, 
"physicians should not be the gatekeeper for a substance for which we 
do not have adequate scientific proof of safety or efficacy."

Observers say the CMA's regularly parroted line rings hollow when 
general practitioners regularly prescribe drugs with little more 
knowledge than what they were told by representatives of the 
pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association, the organization that 
insures 95 per cent of Canada's physicians, continues to issue its 
doctors a release from liability form that protects them from legal 
action relating to a clients' use of medical marijuana.

No such special form is required when prescribing addictive and 
dangerous drugs like Valium and codeine.

South of the border-where the "war on drugs" drags on-the 
124,000-member American College of Physicians released a January 2008 
position paper that supports comprehensive research into the 
therapeutic uses of medical marijuana.

It concludes: "Evidence not only supports the use of medical 
marijuana in certain conditions but also suggests numerous 
indications for cannabinoids. Additional research is needed to 
further clarify the therapeutic value of cannabinoids and determine 
optimal routes of administration."

In Canada, new government research on the therapeutic value of 
medical marijuana will be a long time coming given the Harper 
government's cancellation of the $4-million Medical Marijuana 
Research Program in 2006.

The continuing prohibitionist view of the product by Health Canada 
and its political masters necessitates a need to micromanage 
distribution of the drug. It is this overt control that makes doctors 
wary of becoming entangled in the bureaucracy that accompanies the MMAR.

During the past few years, Health Canada has taken to phoning doctors 
directly to question attempts to prescribe more than five daily grams 
to a patient.

Physicians and patients alike see this as a gross invasion of their 
privacy. It seems Health Canada may also be awakening to that fact.

In a March 2007 correspondence obtained by Canadians for Safe Access 
through an ATI request, MMAD division program manager Barry Jones 
tells MMAD manager Ronald Denault: "I also feel that we may be going 
more into the realm of influencing, rather than informing the renewals."

In a 2007 letter to Jason Wilcox, Denault writes, "The use of dried 
marijuana for medical purposes has not yet been proven scientifically."

For chronically and terminally sick Canadians, the country's 
physicians are not so ill-informed as to overlook the benefits their 
patients derive from medical cannabis and often will endorse 
compassion club applications.

"Doctors would rather sign a form for a quasi-legal, grey market 
source like a compassion club, than get involved with Health Canada," 
says Vancouver Island Compassion Society's Philippe Lucas. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake