Pubdate: Fri, 26 Sep 2008
Source: Cowichan Valley Citizen (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Cowichan Valley Citizen
Author: Sandra Mcculloch
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Marijuana grown on Vancouver Island could soon be offering pain relief
and other benefits to medical patients across Canada.

Horticulturist Eric Nash and his partner Wendy Little operate Island
Harvest in the Cowichan Valley, which they say is Canada's first and
only production facility of certified organic medical marijuana.

Their operation is licensed and approved by Health Canada, and they
have been supplying two patients with marijuana who are registered
with the Health Canada program authorizing use of the drug for certain
medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord disease
and cancer.

Now they are applying for a contract to be a major supplier of
marijuana for some of the 2,500 people across the country who are
enrolled in the Health Canada program.

There are 1,700 people in Canada who can legally cultivate or produce
marijuana for medical purposes. Some are allowed to grow their own,
while others can have a designated grower do it for them.

The seven-year contract could be a profitable deal for Nash and
Little. While the legal cultivation of marijuana isn't as lucrative as
doing it through the black market, it doesn't have the risks of going
to jail.

Still, the money isn't bad. The previous government contractor
parlayed an initial $5,750,000 deal into $10 million through
extensions to the contract.

The bids on this new contract close on Sept. 29, and it's expected to
take the government months to make a decision.

Phillippe Lucas, director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society,
which distributes marijuana to 830 people in Greater Victoria, says
opinions are shifting on marijuana use across the country, citing
studies that show 65 per cent of Canadians support recreational use
while 85 per cent support medical use of marijuana.

The medical benefits of marijuana are too numerous to ignore, Nash
said, but difficulties arise when doctors refuse to sign the complex
paperwork needed to get Health Canada approval.

"The main body of people who contact us are those who are using it for
a severe medical issue such as spinal cord injury, cancer, HIV/AIDS,
multiple sclerosis and their doctor won't sign the forms for legal
use," he said.

"These people, because they can't get their doctor to sign, there's
nothing they can do."

It's frustrating for Nash and Little not being able to help these
people, he said. "They fall between the cracks, getting stuck simply
because a doctor won't fill out a government form for them to have
legal access for a credible medical purpose."

It's difficult for those who need it to get marijuana legally, Lucas
said. "Through Health Canada the program is growing through tiny
increments," he said yesterday.

And with marijuana use legal for some people in Canada and not for
others, it creates a murky situation that Nash would like to see clarified.

He'd like to see a regulatory framework, at least, to sort out the
various sources that produce and distribute marijuana.

Lucas was part of a constitutional challenge launched in 2004 that is
expected to culminate in a decision in November. "If we're successful,
we'll have eased access for Canadians to benefit from the legal
protections offered though our federal system," he said.

"You have compassion clubs all across Canada in all the major cities
distributing to thousands of Canadians for medical use," said Nash.

"You've got the government selling to a small percentage who can jump
through the hoops to get into the program."

There's a definite social stigma attached to the use of marijuana, he
said, "which is unfortunate because it is such a useful medicine for
so many different purposes. The medical field is beginning to
understand the huge significance and role cannabis can play in many
medical issues."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin