HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Feds Shelve Medical Marijuana
Pubdate: Tue, 23 Apr 2002
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2002 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Paul Samyn


OTTAWA -- Canada's first crop of medicinal marijuana grown deep within a 
Flin Flon mine shaft is suddenly no longer ready to be toked and Health 
Canada has no idea when its much-ballyhooed joints will be in the hands of 
waiting patients.

In a surprising turnaround for the internationally ground-breaking project, 
distribution plans are being put on hold for clinical trials.

"We need to fully understand what the risks and benefits are," Farah 
Mohamed, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Anne McLellan said yesterday.

Mohamed denied there has been any change in policy or process to the 
medicinal marijuana program since McLellan took over the file from Allan 
Rock in January's cabinet shuffle.

But in December, Health Canada announced the Manitoba-grown marijuana had 
been given the green light after extensive testing and the only step 
remaining was to ready a distribution system for the pot.

"The plan is proceeding on schedule," one official said of the program 
shortly before Christmas. "Health Canada now plans to contact the 680 
patients to see if they are interested." Mohamed yesterday said there is no 
timeline in place for when the pot will be cleared for use and distributed 
to registered patients.

"The only timeline which guides us is making sure the steps are followed to 
mitigate the risks," she said.

NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis said the program is definitely being 
delayed and is further evidence of chaos within the department.

"Short of a change of policy, there is no reason why this program should be 
on hold," Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North-Centre) said.

Wasylycia-Leis said the change of heart on medicinal marijuana is yet 
another example of McLellan having to clean up messes left behind by Rock. 
(McLellan also took over from Rock as justice minister after he was roundly 
criticized for a controversial gun-control law.)

"The medicinal marijuana program was introduced with such fanfare by 
minister Rock and yet once again, things are being left in limbo," she 
said. Prairie Plant Systems, the Saskatoon-based firm that won the 
$5.7-million contract to cultivate the pot, wasn't commenting yesterday on 
the program or its crop.

Health Canada's compassionate marijuana program, introduced last summer, 
allows the terminally ill and those suffering from serious medical 
conditions such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS/HIV and epilepsy to possess and 
even grow marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

In December, Health Canada said its distribution system, which may make use 
of pharmacies, will depend on how many eligible patients opt for the Flin 
Flon-grown pot.
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