More MS news articles for July 2001

Doctors concerned as pot rules take effect

Jul. 27, 2001. 04:41 PM

OTTAWA (CP) - Doctors are concerned about a flood of applications from patients - some using fake forms - when regulations on marijuana for medicinal use take effect Monday.

Under the new law, severely ill patients with a doctor's approval can apply to Health Canada to grow and use the drug.

The Alberta Medical Association told doctors in that province Friday to ''think twice'' about filling out forms for patients.

Dr. Clayne Steed, AMA president, also warned physicians to be extra wary of fake forms after one physician was asked to fill out a form from the Grant W. Krieger Cannabis Research Foundation.

Calgary-based Krieger, 46, who has multiple sclerosis, has been fighting for more than five years to have the drug legalized for medicinal use.

In April, the federal government announced that people suffering from severe forms of arthritis will be given the right to possess and smoke marijuana legally if they can prove they can't be treated with other drugs to alleviate relentless pain.

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

The measures also allow the government to license third parties to grow marijuana for individuals who can't grow it for themselves.

To date, 292 people have been granted exemptions from current law, which makes it a criminal offence to grow and use marijuana.

The Canadian Medical Association has raised strong objections to the new regulations, which they say ignore normal protocols of rigorous pre-market testing, putting patients and physicians in a precarious position.

The Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, representing doctors specializing in addiction treatment, argues ''there is more risk than benefit'' and is calling for more clinical research.

''Unfortunately the government has decided to go ahead to appease a few lobby groups,'' said Dr. Raju Hajela, past-president.

Canada is the first country to adopt such a system using marijuana as medicine, after an Ontario judge ordered the government to clarify its rules within one year. The regulations are a result of that order.

''The courts can't be deciding how doctors should be practising medicine, because that's what is essentially happening here,'' said Hajela, an assistant professor at Queens University in Kingston.

Health Canada says it shares doctors' concerns and plans to release a manual for physicians to coincide with the regulations taking effect.

''We will continue to monitor the implementation of this legislation,'' said Roslyn Tremblay, a spokeswoman for Health Canada.

Clinical trials are also under way in Toronto and Montreal, she said.

The new rules create three categories of people who can possess the drug: the terminally ill with a prognosis of death within one year; those with symptoms associated with specific serious medical conditions; and those with other medical conditions who have statements from two doctors saying conventional treatments have not worked.

Tim McClermont, executive director of the Hepatitis C Society of Canada, said the process frustrates patients who find the system too bureaucratic.

Health Canada requires so many different types of documentation, patients have to keep going back to their physician, McClermont said.

''The doctors are getting angry and getting fed up with it . . . so often they tell the patient, `I don't want be involved with this, it's too much of a hassle','' he said.

''It's discouraging for everybody. . . . people will just give up and not pursue it.''