Monday, July 30, 2001
By Tom Cohen / Associated Press
TORONTO -- Canadians suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions such as arthritis can legally grow and smoke marijuana, or designate someone else to grow it for them, under regulations that take effect today.
The new rules are part of the first system in the world that includes a government-approved and paid-for supply of marijuana, now being grown in a former mine in northern Manitoba.
The rules will expand the number of people beyond the 292 in the country currently exempted from federal drug laws that make it a criminal offense to grow and use marijuana.
While some in Canada complain the new regulations create bureaucratic hurdles and put doctors in the unsettling role of prescribing something they know little about, the Canadian system looks wonderful to U.S. medical marijuana advocates battling a zero-tolerance attitude.
"We're kind of envious of Canadians having the luxury of complaining about the minutiae of the program," said Chuck Thomas of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project. "It seems like a reasonable system."
Eight U.S. states have taken some kind of step toward permitting the medicinal use of marijuana: California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada and Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled earlier this year that there is no exception in federal law for people to use marijuana, so even people with state medical-exemptions could face arrest if they do.
North of the border in the country that is the biggest U.S. trade partner, attitudes are different. Justice Minister Anne McLellan said the issue of decriminalizing marijuana should be studied, and the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to consider a challenge against the constitutionality of criminal marijuana laws.
The new medical marijuana rules permit drug possession for 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. Eligible patients include those with severe arthritis, cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
More than 500 new applications are pending, and more are expected, according to the federal health ministry.