More MS news articles for August 2001

Pot law a bust - critics

Marijuana use for medicinal purposes now legal in Canada

Tuesday 31 July 2001
The Gazette

Regulations allowing authorized Canadians to grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes came into force yesterday - trailing so much red tape that patients are scarcely better off than when they started, critics of the new rules say.

"Thanks to the (Ontario) Court of Appeals, medical marijuana is a constitutional right in Canada, so the government has to be pretty careful in how they tread in limiting people's access to that right," Marijuana Party leader Marc-Boris St-Maurice said.

"This regulation will not survive repeated attacks, and it will be attacked."

Under amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act announced in April, people suffering from severe forms of arthritis can now obtain the right to possess and smoke marijuana legally if they can prove other pain-killing drugs have been ineffective.

To Ease Symptoms

The rules also allow terminally ill patients, and those with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injuries, epilepsy and other serious conditions to use the drug if it eases their symptoms.

But there's no point in being allowed to smoke it if you can't obtain it, a volunteer at Montreal's Compassion Club argued yesterday - and Canada's only authorized distributor is busy growing plants in a mine shaft in Flin Flon, Man.

"The main problem is that there's no point of sale - there's nowhere to buy it besides the compassion clubs," said Christian, a club volunteer who goes by his first name only.

The initial harvest from the world's first government-run marijuana-cultivation centre in Flin Flon, operated by Prairie Plant Systems Inc., is expected this fall. Federal Health Minister Allan Rock is planning a visit to the high-security site this week.

Buying pot from anyone else remains illegal, which means that compassion clubs - which distribute marijuana illegally to patients for medical use - still find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

"Nothing has changed," the founder of Toronto-based Cannabis as Living Medicine said. "The regulations need to incorporate cannabis clubs to get the job done properly."

CALM currently distributes pot to 300 people, only 30 of whom are among the 292 Canadians who have been exempted from federal law criminalizing possession and use of marijuana, said Neeve, who also goes by his first name only.

Of 100 people from as far away as New Brunswick who obtain pot from Montreal's Compassion Club, only about 10 have exemptions, Christian said.

Applications to use marijuana under the new regulations must be endorsed by at least one - and in some cases two - physicians, which Neeve said presents another stumbling block.

"The reality hasn't changed in that people are still calling me and telling me their physicians don't want to get involved in marijuana," he said.

The Quebec College of Physicians reiterated yesterday that doctors should not prescribe marijuana because the medical benefits, side-effects and proper dosages have not yet been determined through clinical trials.

A groundbreaking study to measure the effectiveness of pot as pain-relief medication is to begin at the McGill pain clinic at the Montreal General Hospital in January.

But in the present vacuum of research into the drug's effects, physicians who prescribe it could face disciplinary review and sanctions ranging from fines to temporary license suspension, Dr. Marguerite Dupre of the College of Physicians said.

The College's position reflects that of the Canadian Medical Association, which has argued strenuously against the new regulations.

Police don't know yet how the government plans to implement the rules, but patients who try to get a head start on their new treatment by obtaining pot from unauthorized distributors will face the same penalties as anyone else, said Commander Andre Durocher of the Montreal Urban Community police.

The regulations were crafted following a July 2000 Ontario Court of Appeals judgment which upheld a lower- court decision to stay charges against Terrance Parker, a man who used marijuana to control his epilepsy.

The court had ruled the prohibition of marijuana under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be unconstitutional, but the declaration of invalidity was suspended for a year so that rules allowing the medical use of marijuana could be formulated.

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