Pubdate: Thur, 4 Mar 1999
Source: Toronto Star (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, The Toronto Star
Author: Tim Harper, Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau


Illegal drug to be researched for use by the sick, Rock reveals to House

OTTAWA - The federal government will begin clinical tests of marijuana, the
first step toward establishing a safe, government-supervised supply of pot
for Canadians who need it for medicinal purposes.

Health Minister Allan Rock made the surprise announcement in the House of
Commons yesterday, a day before Bloc QuE9bE9cois MP Bernard Bigras was to
introduce a private member's motion on the same matter.

According to some estimates, 20,000 or more Canadians would be likely to
apply to smoke marijuana to ease the pain and symptoms of such debilitating
diseases as glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, epilepsy, AIDS or

Canadians who are suffering deserve government help, the health minister

The move was applauded by a number of medical organizations and activists
who had been pushing for such action, but it is not expected to have any
impact on various court challenges to the marijuana laws across the country.

``These are people who are dying,'' Rock told the Commons. ``They want
access to something they believe will help with their symptoms.

``We want to help. Clinical trials would allow us to get research to know
more about how we can help.''

In the United States, voters in seven states and the District of Columbia
have approved the medical use of marijuana.

Outside the Commons, Rock told reporters he believes Canadians will support
the government's move.

``This has nothing to do with legalizing marijuana,'' he said.

Dr. Don Kilby, director of the University of Ottawa's health services, said
he believes Ottawa is sincere in its move and hopes it can quickly lead to a
government-sanctioned growing centre.

``I want to make sure I know what my patients are smoking is safe,'' said
Kilby, who treats many HIV/AIDS patients.

``I don't want them smoking just anything.''

Kilby had already unsuccessfully applied to Health Canada for a special
provision under existing legislation to provide marijuana for Jean-Charles
Pariseau, an Ottawa man who suffers from advanced AIDS and wanted the
marijuana to alleviate nausea.

Pariseau applauded the move yesterday, but said it was Bigras who spurred
the govern ment into action.

Pariseau said his disease has made it virtually impossible for him to leave
his home.

He tires easily, after no more than three or four waking hours, he said.

``Marijuana would help me to forget my pain and make my life longer,''
Pariseau added.

Lawyer Eugene Oscapella of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, a think
tank which studies drug laws, welcomed the move, but said it was long

He said Rock had the opportunity to help Pariseau 15 months ago and didn't

``It has become just plain cruel to deny this drug to dying people who could
use this to alleviate pain and suffering,'' Oscapella said.

Rock had been considering such a move for about a year and he signalled his
intention in a newspaper interview last August when he said he planned to
have bureaucrats put the wheels in motion for clinical tests.

``How the hell can we do a clinical study until it's legal?'' asked Terry
Parker, the Toronto man who won a 20-year fight to use marijuana to treat
his epilepsy in December, 1997, The Star's Jennifer Quinn reports.

Parker said yesterday he is concerned synthetic alternatives to marijuana -
which he believes aren't as effective - might be pushed by the government.

Health Canada officials said independent research is now underway in
California but it is not sanctioned by Washington.

Clinical tests are also underway in Britain, but in some other European
nations therapeutic use of marijuana is already allowed.

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