HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Medicinal-Marijuana Harvest On Hold
Pubdate: Mon, 22 Apr 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Page: A1
Author: Carolyn Abraham, Medical Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Hundreds of sick Canadians awaiting the government's first shipment of 
medicinal marijuana had better not hold their breath: Ottawa bureaucrats 
now say that they have no idea when their weed will be ready for 
distribution and that only a select group will be eligible to receive it.

Facing acute concern from doctors about prescribing pot as medicine and a 
cabinet shuffle that has landed new Health Minister Anne McLellan with a 
heavy agenda, the government's much-touted medicinal-marijuana program 
seems to have slipped into slow gear.

Special regulations permit patients with conditions as varied as AIDS and 
back pain to use the illegal drug to treat their various symptoms.

Officials with former health minister Allan Rock said last December that 
marijuana growing in a northern Manitoba mine would soon be in those 
patients' hands.

Four months later, more than 250 kilograms of the federally sanctioned buds 
have been harvested, but still have not budged. The canabis is sitting in a 
secure cold storage grotto, 360 metres underground, its entrances video 
monitered constantly by RCMP, who could easily arrive in less time than it 
would take an ambitious thief to travel in and out.

"They are going to have to sit around and smoke it themselves or watch it 
rot, because they don't seem to want to give it to anyone," said Victoria 
lawyer Robert Moore-Smith, who represents three clients facing charges 
related to selling marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Mr. Moore-Smith, along with others familiar with the situation, say 
Canada's medicinal pot program, the first of its kind in the world, is 
causing chaos and confusion.

Federal officials are still working out crucial details about how to run 
the program, which they announced more than a year ago. Among the questions 
is whether medicinal marijuana should be subject to the same premarket 
screening and regulations as any other pharmaceutical drug before it 
reaches patients.

"I think it's going to take more time than anyone expected," Cindy 
Cripps-Prawak, director of the federal government's Office of Cannabis 
Medical Access, acknowledged. "This is not an approved therapeutic product."

Ms. Cripps-Prawak would not even hazard a guess as to when the weed would 
be deemed ready for shipment.

The Health Minister turned down requests for an interview on the program. 
Her spokeswoman Farah Mohamed said Ms. McLellan is still committed to it, 
though she added, "there is no arbitrary time clock" dictating when the 
marijuana will be delivered.

So far, a total of 798 people have been approved to possess marijuana as 
medicine. But only 106 of them have permission either to grow the drug 
themselves or to have someone else grow it for them. This leaves more than 
three quarters of patients in a Catch-22: They are legally entitled to 
possess a drug that is illegal to buy.

So while cannabis accumulates in the underground cavern, patients place 
anxious calls to Health Canada, politicians and the Saskatoon-based company 
hired to grow the government's marijuana.

NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis said she has received a "barrage of 
complaints" from patients worried that buying marijuana for medical 
purposes "puts them at risk of being charged under the current law.

"It's a mess," she said. "But is this government going to continue to make 
flowery announcements and then not follow through?"

Even before television cameras filmed Mr. Rock touring the Flin Flon pot 
plot last summer, the government program had been well publicized. Mr. 
Moore-Smith suspects that as a result, underground suppliers of medicinal 
marijuana are facing greater police scrutiny.

"Police are saying, 'Now that we've got this federal medical marijuana 
program, we can bust all the other games in town.' But the trouble is the 
federal government's game is a sham."

Geoff Varley, deputy chief of the Victoria Police Department, denies police 
are subjecting medicinal cannabis sellers to tougher inspections. Instead, 
he said, he worries that the public might assume police are in a position 
to determine which laws "should or should not be enforced."

"It's a bad model and a slippery slope to have police acting as a de facto 
Parliament," he said.

Doctors, meanwhile, feel the onus has been left for them to judge the 
medical value of marijuana for their patients without research to back it up.

Both the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Protective 
Association have told physicians not to sign patients' requests to be 
federally approved to possess cannabis.

"The objective is not to prevent them from having access to something that 
may relieve their symptoms, but to protect them against an unproven 
treatment," CMA president Henry Haddad said.

But Dr. Haddad, who recently had lunch with the new Health Minister, said 
he feels doctors' concern is finally having an impact. "We're pleased that 
they're listening to physicians," he said. "We also have the impression 
that the process is grinding along, but it's grinding along positively."

Only patients who participate in clinical trials or agree to be monitored 
for research purposes will receive the government-grown marijuana, Ms. 
Cripps-Prawak said.

But since patients are not usually charged to test experimental drugs, the 
government is also reconsidering whether it can recoup the $5.7-million it 
is spending over five years to grow its marijuana supply.

Ted Smith, founder of the Victoria-based Cannabis Buyers' Clubs of Canada, 
which sells pot as medicine to 950 members, said few people are applying 
for the government program any more.

"The only way things will happen here is by constant, passive, civil 
disobedience," said Mr. Smith, who faces six marijuana-related charges.

"Most people are giving up on Health Canada. They figure, why fill out all 
this paperwork? Doctors have been told not to sign it for them and then 
there's nowhere to get it, so what's the point?"
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