HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Medical Marijuana Worries McLellan
Pubdate: Tue, 20 Aug 2002
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: David Stonehouse


SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- Federal Health Minister Anne McLellan says she is 
uncomfortable with allowing people to smoke marijuana for medical reasons 
and wants its benefits to be scientifically proven first.

Ms. McLellan suggested the federal government was pushed into allowing some 
Canadians to smoke the illicit drug as treatment for chronic or terminal 

"Look, I am the minister of health. You can probably tell I feel a certain 
degree of discomfort around this issue," Ms. McLellan said in her address 
to about 350 physicians at the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical 
Association yesterday.

Health authorities have a responsibility to prove the scientific worth of 
any drug for medical treatment and that should be no different for 
marijuana, she said.

"I believe clinical trials in relation to medical marijuana are absolutely 
key, and I understand the issues that many ... feel and have," she said.

Some of the doctors are concerned about the health effects of smoking 
marijuana, and others fear they will be held liable if they back patients' 
requests for federal exemptions allowing the medicinal use of the drug.

A doctor from Kingston raised the issue with the minister, saying a 
marijuana joint is as damaging as 10 cigarettes.

"There's no scientific evidence for the benefit. In my clinical practice, I 
see the harmful effects every day," Dr. Raju Hajela said.

Ms. McLellan is anxious for the Supreme Court to rule on the legal status 
of marijuana, and she held lower courts responsible for forcing her 
predecessor in health -- Allan Rock -- to bring in regulations allowing 
medical use of marijuana.

"I don't mean to say here this morning the courts made me do it, or made 
Allan do that, although there is some truth to that. The courts took us 
down a path.

"I hope that this whole issue gets before the Supreme Court of Canada 
fairly soon so we will have the opportunity to re-argue this case."

The minister said she understands how some people believe smoking marijuana 
helps them with their illnesses, but added "we owe it to all Canadians" to 
subject it to scientific scrutiny.

Ms. McLellan also expressed some unease with allowing marijuana smoking at 
the same time as her department is responsible for the largest single 
public awareness campaign in the country -- the campaign against cigarette 
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