HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Marijuana Expert's Credibility In Question
Pubdate: Mon, 28 Oct 2002
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Shannon Kari


Health Canada Hires Scientist Developing Alternative To Drug To Outline 
Weed's Dangers

TORONTO -- The federal government has hired a U.S. scientist to outline the 
dangers of smoking marijuana in a continuing court case, despite his ties 
to a large pharmaceutical company that manufactures a synthetic alternative 
to the drug.

Professor Billy Martin has worked with Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc. for the 
past year to further development of a metered dose inhaler for THC -- the 
major psychoactive component in marijuana -- that was patented by the 
Virginia-based scientist.

Solvay, a Belgian-based multi-national pharmaceutical company, also markets 
Marinol, a drug with chemically synthesized THC that can be obtained by 
prescription in Canada.

"I agree with most scientific experts who assert that the future lies with 
pure synthetic cannabinoids as medications rather than marijuana," Martin 
wrote in an affidavit filed in Ontario Superior Court.

Marinol takes at least two hours to fully enter the bloodstream, which 
makes it less effective for pain relief, according to advocates of smoking 
marijuana for medical use.

Martin, who was unavailable for comment, was commissioned by Health Canada 
as part of its response to a court challenge to the new Marijuana Medical 
Access Regulations.

Seven chronically ill people and the founder of the Toronto Compassion 
Centre, which distributed marijuana, argue the regulations are 

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said its lawyers determined there 
was "no conflict" in using Martin as an impartial scientific expert. As 
well, the scientist's connections to Solvay were disclosed to the applicants.

"He is the leading expert," said Health Canada spokesman Andrew Swift, who 
indicated Martin will be paid about $9,000 Cdn for his evidence in the 
Ontario court case.

Martin is the chairman of the Pharmacology and Toxicology department at 
Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Since 1988, he has been the 
director of a special research centre funded by the U.S. National Institute 
of Drug Abuse.

"Marijuana has a long history of use by humanity," conceded Martin in his 
evidence. But he stressed "the science base is far from clear."

There have been very few valid scientific studies about the potential 
clinical benefits of marijuana, said Martin, in part because of "the 
financial burden of a clinical evaluation on a product without a commercial 

The federal government established new marijuana guidelines after the 
Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in July 2000 that a blanket prohibition 
violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lawyers challenging the regulations argued in Superior Court last month the 
new rules are so complex that seriously ill Canadians cannot make use of them.

In defence of the regulations, the Justice Department made a number of 
references in its written arguments about the health risks of smoking 
marijuana, contained in a 1999 report issued by the U.S. Institute of 
Medicine. The report was commissioned by the U.S. government's Office of 
National Drug Control Policy.

Martin served on the advisory panel for the report.
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