HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot Plan Still On Front Burner
Pubdate: Tue, 27 Aug 2002
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 Times Colonist
Author: Julia Necheff, Canadian Press


EDMONTON (Canadian Press) -- The federal government is not backing away 
from its plan to supply patients with medical marijuana, Health Minister 
Anne McLellan said Monday, bristling at earlier reports that the project 
has been shelved.

Her department hopes clinical trials on research-grade pot can begin at the 
end of fall or in early winter, McLellan said, refuting suggestions she is 
not keen to go ahead with the controversial plan to distribute marijuana 
for medicinal purposes.

"In fact, far from shelving it, what we're doing is implementing the second 
stage," McLellan said.

The first stage was to pass legislation last summer amending drug laws so 
that people with certain medical conditions -- such as multiple sclerosis, 
HIV, cancer and Crohn's disease -- could apply for special exemptions that 
would allow them to use pot to relieve their symptoms.

"We have 855 of those people. More people continue to apply," McLellan said.

After a news report last week suggested the plan was being shelved, she 
said some patients called the government and asked if their exemption was 
being taken away.

"Of course not," McLellan added. "That process is in place. It will continue."

The second stage is clinical trials. "Clinical trials are absolutely key, 
especially for us in the Department of Health," McLellan said, repeating 
what she told the Canadian Medical Association earlier this month.

The safety, efficacy and long-term effects of marijuana must be studied -- 
just like any drug, she said.

"If we let it go on the market and somebody died, you people would be the 
first to say: 'Oh look, there's the Department of Health not discharging 
its responsibility in relation to protecting the safety and security of 
Canadians.' "

Ottawa signed a $5.7-million, four-year contract in 2000 with 
Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems to grow marijuana for the government. 
The pot is being grown deep in a former mine in Flin Flon, Man.

The government couldn't go ahead with an earlier crop because it wasn't 
standardized and therefore not suitable to use in trials, she said.

"They've grown a second crop and we're testing it," McLellan said. "We 
believe that we have overcome that problem. We have a standardized crop 
which can be used."

However, a Health Canada official said in December the first crop was 
quality-tested and was ready for distribution to patients and researchers.

A department spokesman said later Monday he couldn't account for the 
comment made in December.

Prairie Plant Systems declined to comment, saying all information must come 
from Health Canada.

Medical marijuana users say pot relieves their pain or gives them an 
appetite or helps them sleep.

While speaking to the medical association, McLellan acknowledged feeling 
uncomfortable with the idea of medicinal marijuana -- about its safety, 
effectiveness and the legal issues surrounding it. She told the doctors she 
understood their concern over possible liability issues from prescribing pot.

Some observers have suggested the government has backed away from medicinal 
pot because, in part, it raises cross-border issues with the United States.

A noted pain specialist was quoted as saying he suspected Canada didn't 
want to get ahead of the United States in this area McLellan revealed to a 
Commons committee in the spring that American drug-enforcement authorities 
wouldn't allow Health Canada access to pure, research-quality marijuana 
seeds from U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse.

An assistant deputy minister for Health Canada conceded at the time there 
are people in the U.S. government opposed to research on the benefits of 

The only option left to Health Canada was to grow seeds that been 
confiscated by police. That produced a crop containing at least 185 
different varieties.

Despite McLellan's assurances that the government remains committed to the 
program, advocates for the medicinal use of marijuana aren't convinced that 
just the timelines have changed.
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