April 25 2002 at 06:44PM
Toronto - Eight months after Canada passed regulations allowing people with terminal illnesses to use marijuana, many sick people still have no legal means of obtaining the drug.
The government, which has harvested more than 250kg of marijuana for research, according to the Globe and Mail, has no immediate plans to release its first batch to those already approved as users.
"Many of our consumers, clients and partners are giving up on the government's programme," said Paul LaPierre, executive director of the Canadian Aids Society.
"For some people it's still easier to get it on the black market and we know people that are doing it."
In July, Canadian regulations established that marijuana could be used for medical purposes by anyone with a terminal illness or with a further life expectancy of less than 12 months.
Aids, cancer, people with severe arthritis, and multiple sclerosis sufferers were also allowed to seek approval for medicinal use, and the government encouraged doctors' groups to sign certificates saying their patients were in need of the drug - which has no proven therapeutic benefit.
About 650 people have been granted exemptions from Canada's Controlled Substance Act for medicinal marijuana use and production for self-use - a system in place since 1999, before the July regulations came into effect.
About 205 others were granted authorisation under the new rules.
Of those, 147 people were granted permission to either grow the drug themselves or have a designated person grow it for them, said Health Canada spokesperson Andrew Swift.
However, many Canadians are stuck with no legal source for either obtaining marijuana, or the seeds to grow it after being approved as medicinal marijuana users.
The regulations are silent on where you get it if one does not grow it oneself, Swift admitted.
Marc-Boris Saint-Maurice, an interim leader of Canada's Marijuana Party, said: "The catch-22 now is that they claim that there is a legal framework (for obtaining and using medicinal marijuana) but for all practical purposes it's inoperable.
"What's most disappointing in all of this is that the federal government has been leading people on for years, saying they would provide a source," Saint-Maurice claims.
Swift, meanwhile, said a government-sanctioned supply is being harvested in Manitoba, but there is no definitive timeframe for getting the product to approved users despite earlier promises of delivering it quickly.
Officials are still outlining ways to ensure the marijuana's quality and safety through testing, which has yet to begin, he said, denying a report that clinical trials involving small groups of people would be used to test the product.
"The bottom line is that we have to take the time to ensure we get it right, and the product meets the quality and safety requirements, and the decisions we take are in the best interest of Canadians authorised to use medical marijuana," Swift said.
Lapierre said while some people are benefiting from the new regulations, the rules should go further to make accessing the drug for medicinal use easier.
He believes the government has now "slowed down the process" of providing a legal source of marijuana following a shuffle of cabinet ministers and the negative reaction of professional medical groups to signing certificates of need for medicinal marijuana use.
"In the meantime, the police department is trying to crack down on home-grown stuff, and that does create a challenge in accessing stuff" for approved users, Lapierre added.
Still, indoor marijuana cultivation remains strong in several Canadian provinces.
In Ontario, pot-growing homes produce about R7-billion in the drug annually, said Waterloo Regional Police Inspector Matt Torigian.
British Columbia's marijuana industry is estimated to export R41-billion
in the drug annually. - Sapa-AFP
© 2002. Independent News & Media