Pubdate: Thu, 07 Oct 1999
Source: Toronto Star (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, The Toronto Star
Author: Tim Harper, Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau


OTTAWA Criminal exemptions for Canadians who smoke marijuana for
medicinal purposes could be extended to those who supply their pot,
Health Minister Allan Rock indicated yesterday.

His department also said it was committing ``several million dollars''
for clinical research into the therapeutic benefits of marijuana over
the next five years, with the first tests to begin as early as
January. In background documents released to update Health Canada's
marijuana research project, Rock acknowledged that caregivers who help
in the cultivation of marijuana could still face criminal charges.

He said he would consult with a range of interest groups over the
coming months to look at granting exemptions for caregivers, a key
request of those who are smoking pot to alleviate suffering from
chronic disease.

An official in Rock's office said ``caregiver'' must first be

One of the 16 Canadians who can legally smoke pot to control symptoms
from his disease was skeptical of Rock's consultations.

``Who will live so long? I'll believe it when I see it,'' said Jim
Wakeford, a Toronto man who suffers from AIDS.

``They've already busted three of my caregivers.''

Wakeford also said he would be happy to define caregiver for Health

``It is somebody who helps me by providing access for me to safe,
clean, affordable, high-quality Canadian marijuana,'' he said.

Health Canada is encouraging the 16 who have been granted exemptions
to grow their own pot in their homes, but Rock has conceded some may
not have the expertise or energy to do so.

The department also released details on clinical trials of the
therapeutic benefits of marijuana and of the minister's efforts to
secure a safe, reliable supply of Canadian-grown marijuana.

Health Canada is working with the Community Research Initiative of
Toronto (CRIT) and the Canadian HIV Trials Network to set up clinical

They are expected to involve 250 patients, who will receive either
research-grade cannabis, a prescription drug called Marinol, which is
a synthetic version of THC, one of marijuana's active ingredients, or
a placebo.

The test subjects will likely be allowed to smoke pot or take the
pills in their homes.

James Austin, an epidemiologist with CRIT, said many patients
suffering from AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy find the
side effects of Marinol too intense and they can better control the
effects of the drug by smoking marijuana.

Marinol also takes up to an hour to alleviate pain while smoking
cannabis can work in a minute or so. ``By smoking, they can control
their nausea without getting high and get on with the rest of their
day,'' Austin said.

Rock's office has received 50 applications to take part in clinical

The Medical Research Council will also begin five years of research on
the effect of cannabis on a number of symptoms, Health Canada said.

The department has not decided whether pot grown in Canada will be
fully controlled by the government or whether the growing of medicinal
marijuana could be contracted out to private suppliers.

Ottawa cannot use marijuana seized by police for its tests because it
wants to regulate the quality and potency of the pot.

Although studies on the medicinal value of marijuana have been
undertaken in the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom
and under the auspices of the World Health Organization, the results
have been ``heavily anecdotal and inconclusive,'' Health Canada maintains.
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