HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Rock
Pubdate: Mon, 25 Sep 2000
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2000 Southam Inc.
Contact:  300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3R5
Fax: (416) 442-2209
Author: Luiza Chwialkowska


Health Canada Will Select Official Supplier Soon

Allan Rock, the federal Minister of Health, says, "The day may come when 
marijuana is available on pharmacists' shelves."

OTTAWA - A government-controlled supply of marijuana will be grown and 
federal regulations governing medicinal use will be made into law within a 
year, according to Allan Rock, the Minister of Health.

"The day may come when marijuana is available on pharmacists' shelves," 
predicted Mr. Rock in an interview.

Health Canada will select an official marijuana supplier over the next 
month or two and the supply will be available depending on "how long after 
that it will take them to produce the first crop, dry it, cut it, and 
[laughs] ... roll it," he said.

While the department develops its supply, Mr. Rock has appealed to police 
to "use discretion" when dealing with people who supply marijuana to 
medical users.

Mr. Rock is also eager for a Cabinet discussion decriminalizing possession 
of small amounts of marijuana, he said.

But the debate must be launched by Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice.

"There's no doubt that it's something she and I should talk about. And 
Cabinet would probably want to be involved in the decision. But we look to 
the Minister of Justice to take the lead in relation to the question of 
whether any offence should be added to the Contraventions Act," said Mr. Rock.

"I'd be happy to participate fully in a vigorous Cabinet discussion on that 
issue -- whenever she brings that to the table," he said.

The Contraventions Act is a federal statute that lists provincial and 
federal offences that are dealt with by tickets and fines, rather than 
criminal charges.

"Think of the difference between being charged with speeding, or being 
charged with dangerous driving," said Mr. Rock.

"The issue is should the possession of small amounts of marijuana be 
subject to a ticketable offence rather than criminal charges?

"We're watching an evolution here from complete prohibition," he said. 
"Maybe someday [recreational users] will be given a ticket."

A spokeswoman for Ms. McLellan has said the Justice Minister considers 
marijuana policy to be a matter of health policy.

"Having served for four years as the Attorney-General of Canada, I can tell 
you that is an issue for the Attorney-General of Canada and the Minister of 
Justice," said Mr. Rock.

To date, Mr. Rock has granted 72 exemptions to patients suffering from 
AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, and other conditions doctors believe can be helped 
by the drug.

But the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that without formal rules, the 
process is too arbitrary, secretive, and allows Mr. Rock too much discretion.

"What the court said to us is we shouldn't innovate. We shouldn't just play 
it by ear ... Carve it into law so everybody knows where they stand," he said.

"At this time next year, there will be a set of regulations on the shelf 
that will spell out who is allowed to apply for medical marijuana, how the 
application is made, what the requirements are, what the criteria are that 
the minister must take into account in deciding, how and within what period 
of time the minister will communicate a decision," he said.

"And within a year, if you are granted an exemption for medical marijuana, 
you will be able to collect it from Health Canada. It will be clear, 
consistent quality," Mr. Rock said.

"And by this time next year, clinical trials will be within full swing and 
we will be accumulating scientific evidence about the comparative medical 
implications of smoking marijuana for the alleviation of symptoms in the 
alleviation of chronic and other diseases."

Mr. Rock said that no patient whose application showed they could benefit 
from marijuana has been rejected.

"Not so much rejected, but some people's applications were not complete. We 
had a lot of one-page letters from people saying, 'Please send me dope.' 
Those did not make the cut," he said.

"Will the day ever come when it's available on pharmacists' shelves?" asked 
Mr. Rock. "Marinol, a pill form of THC, is already available on druggists' 
shelves. So the day may come," he said.

"I think these are all mechanical consequences that follow from a basic 
decision: Are you going to let someone in pain have access to a drug they 
think will alleviate it?" he asked. "Yes, we've decided that."

"There was never a good answer as to why it wasn't medically available," 
added Mr. Rock.

"My mother was on morphine for a month before she died, and yet morphine is 
considered a prohibited drug. It's criminalized, people traffic in it and 
go to jail, and yet the doctor prescribed it and we had it in the room. She 
died at home, and we had it in the house."
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