HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ottawa Must Loosen Medical Pot Rules, Lawyers Argue
Pubdate: Tue, 04 Dec 2007
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2007, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Maria Babbage, Canadian Press


Health Canada Should Offer Multiple Strains, Federal Court Told On
Behalf Of Patients

TORONTO -- The federal government must loosen unfair restrictions that
are preventing seriously ill Canadians from obtaining the medical
marijuana they need to treat debilitating illnesses, lawyers for the
sick argued yesterday in Federal Court.

Health Canada has effectively established itself as the country's sole
legal provider of medical marijuana, but is providing an expensive yet
ineffective drug that doesn't meet the needs of many patients who use
it to treat chronic pain, seizures and other ailments, Osgoode Hall
law professor Alan Young said.

It has also shrugged off complaints about the drug, which costs about
$150 per ounce, and failed to improve the program by providing
patients with different strains designed for their specific medical
needs, Prof. Young told the court.

"It's not enough to say, 'Here's some pot for you, knock yourself
out.' That's not the way medicine is delivered," he said outside court

"You come up with the optimal product."

There are providers who want to supply various strains of the drug at
a lower cost for medical use, but they're prohibited from doing so
because government policy restricts them from supplying more than one
patient, he added.

That's forcing medical marijuana patients to risk their safety to find
the medicine they need, said Alison Myrden, 44, a medicinal marijuana
user for nearly eight years, who treats multiple sclerosis and tic
douloureux, a neurological condition that causes extreme facial pain.

"I'm constantly on the street because I'm chasing a strain that the
government doesn't offer," she said.

"So until the government offers more than one strain, people like
myself are forced back onto the street. I grow my own medicine, but I
still have a problem getting the strains that I need because they're
kept hostage in the black market."

Ms. Myrden, who uses about 28 to 30 grams of marijuana daily, said she
would be taking 32 pills and 2,000 grams of morphine each day if she
didn't have access to pot.

"I actually was given heroin and cocaine both for the pain in my face,
and neither of them worked better than certain strains of cannabis
that I can get on the street," she said.

Many of these problems are the result of a poorly conceived "eleventh
hour" government policy that was rushed into place following a 2003
Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that struck down certain rules that
limited access to medical marijuana, Prof. Young said.

In response, Health Canada amended its policy to provide reasonable
access to marijuana for medical purposes, a change that came into
force that December.

Those rules allow medical marijuana users to either grow the product
themselves, have someone grow it for them or buy it from Health
Canada, which obtains the drug through its contract manufacturer,
Prairie Plant Systems Inc., which grows pot in Flin Flon, Man.

But previous governments have been uncomfortable with their role as
cannabis supplier. Former Liberal health minister Anne McLellan, an
unabashed opponent of the government's medical marijuana program, was
reluctant to provide the drug to patients.

"They are determined not to let an individual grow marijuana for more
than one person - determined," Prof. Young said.

"They want to have control over it and they said ultimately our vision
is that we'll be out of this business and that marijuana products are
available in pharmacies and we can wash our hands of it."

Health Canada spokeswoman Joey Rathwell declined to comment yesterday
on the case, as it is before the courts.

The case, which began in 2004, will be heard for two more days in
Federal Court. Some of the applicants have died since the case was
first filed; their number has been reduced to 17 from the original 27.
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