HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Weeding Out Bad Policy
Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jan 2008
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 The Ottawa Citizen
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Pretending that marijuana possesses magic evil qualities that make it 
more dangerous than a thousand other substances our laws permit 
doctors to prescribe, from Ritalin to morphine, hurts physicians and 
their patients.

Nobody seems keen to help the doctors, but Deputy Judge Barry Strayer 
of the Federal Court has struck a blow on behalf of the patients. 
Judge Strayer is 75 and semi-retired after spending a decade as chief 
justice of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada; he's no new-age 
softie. But last week he killed a Health Canada rule that practically 
gave the federal government a monopoly on legal marijuana cultivation 
for people whose doctors say they can use the weed for a range of 
illnesses from glaucoma to the side effects of chemotherapy.

The rule was that if you're a licensed marijuana user, you could buy 
your medication from the government (which has one supplier, whose 
product many users say is vile), grow for yourself, or have one 
person grow for you and nobody else. This last condition, which Judge 
Strayer overturned, was meant to prevent the rise of entrepreneurial 
"compassion clubs," which are common particularly in California, 
where state laws are generous to medicinal-marijuana users. 
Supposedly compassion clubs blur the line between licit and illicit 
marijuana cultivation, making possible a vast underground economy in 
illegal marijuana production and use. Wouldn't want that.

Yet as businesses that compete for licensed users or customers, 
compassion clubs have to provide good, safe marijuana at a price 
patients are willing to pay, with predictable levels of THC, 
cannabis's active substance. In short, they have to act a little like 
pharmaceutical companies.

If sick Canadians can get access to reliable supplies, their doctors 
might overcome some of their squeamishness about prescribing 
marijuana. Currently, many doctors won't do it, and many of those who 
will are uncomfortable, as a series of Health Canada-sponsored 
interviews with 30 pot-prescribing physicians recently found.

(The report the government released on those interviews is called 
Views of Physicians Regarding the Use of Marihuana for Medical 
Purposes. The government insists on calling medical cannabis 
"marihuana" instead of "marijuana," as if to imply they aren't 
exactly the same thing except for the paperwork.)

Doctors worry that they don't have enough clinical knowledge when 
they recommend their patients use marijuana for medical reasons, 
Health Canada found. Often, the patients come up with the idea. 
Suffering from a problem they've heard marijuana can soothe, they 
find their own sources of the drug, find it helps them, and then go 
to their doctors for expert advice on how to use marijuana wisely -- 
advice the doctors too often don't possess. Sometimes most of what 
they know comes from their patients, according to the report.

Marijuana is now in an awkward in-between state in Canada, legally 
permissible for some people but still legally distasteful. Leave 
aside the important questions of whether it's practical to wage war 
on a plant, or whether the government should. As a matter of law and 
of fact, marijuana is a regulated pharmaceutical and it should be 
treated with all the seriousness that implies.
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