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Health Canada agrees to provide pot long-term; patients protest

December 8, 2003
Dennis Bueckett
Canadian Press

Health Canada says it will provide medical marijuana to authorized patients on a long-term basis, but patients aren't cheering.

Instead, they're upset that the government will continue to strictly limit local growing operations, forcing many patients to obtain government pot which they consider inferior and overpriced. "This is not going to help the sick people across Canada - it's only going to hurt them even more, because it's only going to push us to the black market," said Marco Renda, a medical pot user.

The latest version of the medical pot regulations appeared Monday in response to an Ontario ruling in the fall that said the existing marijuana access rules were overly restrictive and unconstitutional.

Alan Young, a veteran lawyer and cannabis crusader, said Health Canada has ignored much of the Ontario court order and he will sue for contempt of court.

"The court removed four major restrictions to access . . . one restriction being the ability of a producer to grow for a number of patients," said Young.

"It's crystal clear, there's no way to circumvent this, they're simply ignoring the court ruling. I will set the wheels in motion to take Health Canada to court for contempt of court."

In its decision last October, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a lower court order that the government provide a legal source of pot for authorized patients.

Health Minister Anne McLellan responded to the earlier court ruling by introducing an interim plan, under which patients could obtain pot from Health Canada.

That contradicted McLellan's previous statements that she would not release any marijuana until it had been proven in clinical trials to be beneficial.

Now McLellan has effectively made the interim plan permanent, entrenching it in regulations. Clinical trials will continue, but the provision of pot to patients won't wait until results are in.

Under the new rules, it will be acceptable for a patient to pay his or her supplier, and the price is left for them to negotiate.

But the rules will continue to prevent a grower from supplying more than a single patient, and to prevent more than three patients from cultivating together.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," said Alison Myrdon, who uses marijuana to ease pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

"Now I can't grow with my friends. I was hoping to start a collective grow here in the country. We can not only save money but then safety wouldn't be an issue."

Health Canada currently has a pot-supply contract with Prairie Plant Systems of Saskatoon, but Myrdon said the government pot costs $150 an ounce while she can obtain it on the black market for $100 an ounce.

The new regulation contains some minor changes in the procedure for obtaining approval for marijuana access. One class of patients who had previously needed signatures from two medical specialists will now need only one signature.

Currently there is little scientific evidence that marijuana has therapeutic benefits, but that could be due to scant funding for marijuana research. Many patients say it helps them deal with nausea, pain and lack of appetite.

Copyright © 2003, Canadian Press