HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Battle For Bud
Pubdate: Wed, 08 Nov 2006
Source: Oak Bay News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Oak Bay News
Author: Andrea Lavigne


Legal marijuana users decry federally sanctioned product as weak and pricey

The cannabis menu at the Vancouver Island Compassion Society changes daily.

On this particular day, clients have a choice of Pochi, Hog, 
Shishberry, Imposter or Jack Herer.

Beneath each name, a brief description of the effects of the variety 
is provided: strong and heady, reads one; mellow and body buzz, reads another.

In addition to supplying medical cannabis buds to about 600 clients 
on Vancouver Island, the compassion society offers an arrange of 
cannabis by-products and alternatives to smoking, such as cookies, 
oral sprays and tinctures, says society director Philippe Lucas.

It's the society's variety of products and family atmosphere that 
brings clients in to his underground operation - that, and the fact 
that federally-approved legal marijuana is substandard, Lucas says.

So it was with great surprise when he heard the federal government 
awarded a 15-month contract extension worth $2.1 million to Canada's 
only legal grow-op, just two weeks after it gutted a $4-million fund 
for research into medical marijuana.

The government announced its decision to fund Prairie Plant Systems 
Inc. to grow cannabis inside an abandoned mine shaft mid-October.

"The frustration there is this is a company that really has not 
worked hard to meet the needs of the end users of this product," 
Lucas says in a recent interview.

While 1,400 Canadians are registered in the medical marijuana 
program, only 300 order marijuana through PPS.

According to Lucas, the government has spent more than $8 million on 
the PPS production facility.

"Now if we divide that over 300 people, we can see what we're growing 
in Flin Flon, Manitoba is the world's most expensive bud," he says.

But PPS president Brent Zettl says public outcry from medical 
marijuana advocates is a thin disguise for ulterior motives.

"It's a cleverly disguised marketing campaign aimed to discredit what 
we do so they can be the only suppliers."

Zettl stands by the PPS product and says the number of users is 
steadily growing and demand for the product has jumped 80 per cent this year.

"Ninety-nine per cent of our patients are repeat customers and the 
only time they stop receiving our product is, unfortunately, when 
they've had a medical condition that's gotten worse."

Jason Wilcox of James Bay is HIV positive and co-infected with 
hepatitis C. He recently purchased 300 grams of cannabis from PPS for 
$1,500 (plus $90 in PST and GST).

"I'm actually disappointed," Wilcox says. "It's quite a large amount 
of money for stuff that has stem in it."

He depends on cannabis to help him take his anti-viral medications.

"When you're sick and have a long-term illness that's terminal, 
sometimes you have to take medications just to take you medications. 
You have to smoke cannabis in order to take your medications to keep 
them down."

Zettl says PPS has worked hard to produce a safe and consistent 
product for end users like Wilcox.

But is it strong enough?

Adrian Cameron of Esquimalt recently finished a one-year study 
conducted by McGill University Health Centre on the medical use of 
marijuana for pain management. To standardize the test, COMPASS study 
participants like Cameron were supplied with the PPS product.

Cameron, who suffers from pancreatitis, has been self-medicating with 
cannabis for four years, and has been a federally approved user for 
two years. Prior to participating in the study he used marijuana from 
a reliable source in Vancouver.

He found he had to smoke more PPS cannabis than usual to get the same 
medical benefits.

"I averaged one to two grams in use of the Vancouver product I was 
getting," Cameron says. "The PPS product, in order to keep stability 
with my condition, I was using the full 3 grams a day."

And it comes down to cost.

The PPS cannabis costs $150 for 30 grams, which is comparable to the 
street value of marijuana and cannabis available from compassion clubs.

If Cameron is going to shell out $400 from his meagre $650 disability 
cheque, he wants the biggest bang for his buck.

"The product from VICS is certainly stronger and that translates into 
having to use less of it," Cameron says.

The PPS product has 12.5 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the 
psychoactive ingredient in pot. That percentage is level Health 
Canada has deemed acceptable based on national averages of THC in 
marijuana seized by police.

Zettl says that's above the national average of nine to 10 per cent, 
and well above what you'll find on B.C. streets.

"I hate to burst everyone's bubble, but... the average grade in 
British Columbia is seven per cent," Zettl says.

But Ted Smith, founder of the Victoria-based Cannabis Buyers' Club of 
Canada, says it's not an accurate comparison.

"He's comparing his average to the average THC content in stuff 
seized by police, not the average THC content in compassion clubs," Smith says.

But the problem here is his compassion club doesn't do its own testing.

"It's debatable right, how much THC is in the pot we sell because we 
don't test it, but I think it's probably 16-17 per cent THC. Well, 
that five per cent difference is quite substantial to people who are sick."

The big selling point for compassion clubs like Smith's are the 
variety of strains of pot and related products they sell. Currently 
the Cannabis Buyers' Club of Canada sells 22 different skin and food 
products and supplies medical marijuana to about 1,900 clients, 
mostly on Vancouver Island.

While Zettl would like to expand the number of varieties his Prairie 
Plant Systems produces, he's only licensed by the federal government 
to produce the one strain. Nonetheless, the company points to a 
return rate of less than one per cent as proof of customer satisfaction.

Lucas attributes the dramatically reduced return rate to Health 
Canada's change in policy, which makes it impossible for clients to 
obtain a refund once the package has been opened.

"Literally it's the equivalent of sitting down for a meal, taking a 
bite of something rotten asking for another meal, and having the 
waiter say 'sorry I can't take this back because you've actually 
tasted it,'" Lucas says.

Health Canada first approved the medical use of cannabis in 2001 and 
in that same year the federal Liberal government under Jean Chretien 
awarded PPS a $5.7-million contract to grow marijuana for research purposes.

In 2003, an Ontario judge ruled that allowing the medicinal use of 
cannabis without providing access to a legal supply was a violation 
of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Soon after, PPS 
started marketing its products to the public.

The PPS contract extension was particularly shocking to researchers 
in light of recent federal spending cuts to the medical marijuana 
research program.

According to information on the Department of Finance Canada website, 
the government cut research funding because it doesn't need to "tell 
profession researchers what to study" and listed medical marijuana 
research as a non-core program.

But medical cannabis advocates argue the research program was 
developed with advice from an expert advisory committee on new active 
substances - an external body of scientific and medical experts.

"It's a frustrating catch-22 because over and over we're going to be 
told by the government, certainly by this Harper government, that we 
don't know enough about medical marijuana to make it widely available 
or to make it available like any other medication," Lucas says.

About a million Canadians say they use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
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