HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Toxic Toke
Pubdate: Thu, 23 Oct 2003
Source: View Magazine (Hamilton, CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 View Magazine
Author: Andria Vasil
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


A high court gavel may have ordered the feds to keep doling out weed
to the nation's sick last week, but it looks like the government's
perpetually problematic stash is in trouble again. Medicinal marijuana
advocates say that Ottawa's herb is laced with high levels of toxic
chemicals and heavy metals.

That's yet another chapter in the tragicomedy of Canada's medical pot
saga, marked by years of judicial tug of war, flip-flopping government
support and notorious delays in the production of certifiably weak
greens. Most recently, Canadians for Safe Access (CSA) decided to act
on their mounting suspicion that growing medicinal herbs in an
abandoned zinc and copper mine shaft could lead to contamination. The
organization sent a sample of federal bud (as well as organic herb for
comparison) out to three labs for independent testing. When results
uncovered much higher levels of toxic compounds like lead and arsenic
in the government stash, the advocacy group started sounding alarms.

"Inhaling heavy metals or arsenic in your lungs - I don't have to tell
you that can have some serious health consequences," says Philippe
Lucas, CSA's director. "When we're talking about people who are
already critically or chronically ill, and in many cases have immune
deficiencies, this becomes a much more dangerous situation."

But both manufacturer Prairie Plant Systems(PPS) and Health Canada
were quick to discount the data. PPS co-founder Brent Zettl says that
every batch of grass is measured for over two dozen heavy metals, and
there has never been any indication of elevated levels.

"These allegations are not based on science or fact," says Zettl,
pointing out that CSA refuses to identify its labs by name. Lucas says
he's only protecting his sources because, though they are accredited
labs, they aren't licensed to handle the illicit drug. But Zettl isn't
convinced. "They might as well pull those results from the air," adds
the former blueberry farmer turned national drug lord.

Then again, Health Canada, which safeguards all info on the pot
project, won't share its findings with the public either. Its
spokesperson, Jirina Vlk, will only say that its test results were
much lower than CSA's. "[The results] are similar to what one finds in
Canadian tobacco and are well within allowable limits," says Vlk.

But when asked what those limits are, Vlk admits there are no
standards in place limiting the presence of heavy metals in either
tobacco or marijuana. She does suggest that levels are well in line
with heavy metal limits on echinacea and other herbs, which are
allowed up to five parts per million of arsenic. (CSA's test revealed
levels of two parts per million in the federal bud.)

Brennain Lloyd of North Watch, a public interest group that monitors
northern mining, energy and forestry activity, argues that there is no
safe level of arsenic exposure. "Both [lead and arsenic] will lead to
long-term loading in the body, so it doesn't make sense to have those
contaminants in medicinal marijuana."

While Health Canada says that these compounds can be found in "every
agricultural product grown in the world," critics are quick to point
out that not every crop is grown in Flin Flon, Manitoba.

The town has been a hotbed of mining and smelting activity since the
early 1900s. According to a Mining Watch report, over four tonnes of
heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, are still dumped into Flin
Flon's water annually, and hundreds of thousands of tonnes are
released into the air. All thanks to the same company (Hudson Bay
Mining and Smelting) that offered up an old mine shaft for PPS's
underground pot-op and still operates just 12 kilometres away.

Zettl insists that despite earlier media reports PPS does not use
local soil, and that both air and water are well filtered before they
are piped 366 metres below ground. "The water is clean, the soil is
clean, the air is clean," says Zettl.

Regardless, Lucas says last week's move by Ontario's appellate court
to loosen legislation around who can grow herbs for ailing users and
how much they can grow will spell the end of PPS's virtual monopoly
over medicinal plant production in Canada.

"The [court has] just allowed a whole bunch of people to enter the
market who know what they're doing and can do it better cheaper and
faster," says Lucas. "That may be the death knell for that cultivation
program in Flin Flon, Manitoba."
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