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More MS news articles for July 2003

Ottawa's marijuana stash sitting on the shelf, wrapped in red tape

Just 16 of 582 buyers apply

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Chris Nuttall-Smith
CanWest News Service
Burlington, Ont.

Canada's licensed medical marijuana users aren't exactly crashing down the doors to buy the government's stash.

Nearly two weeks after Health Canada said it would sell dried marijuana and seeds to licensed medical users, just 16 of 582 potential buyers have submitted applications, said Jirina Vlk, a ministry representative.

The ministry's office of cannabis medical access announced July 9 it would sell its stash, and posted application forms on the Internet that day.

Vlk said more patients will apply to buy the product over time.

"It's going to take people some time to read the policy, become familiar with it, fill out the application," she said. "They need to see the doctor, see if the doctor will receive the product -- the doctor has to agree to receive the product -- then they need to go to their lawyers. That will all take time."

Vlk said the ministry has not approved any of the applications it has received.

However, frustrated users said Health Canada has set the barriers so high that applying for the pot might not be worth the trouble.

"It's not worth it, absolutely not," said Alison Myrden, a Burlington, Ont,. native who uses marijuana to relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Myrden, an advocate for safe access to medical marijuana, said she has applied for 30 grams, or about an ounce, of dried marijuana, mostly because she wants to know if it's any good. As she sat on her living room couch Monday, wincing with the pain her illness causes -- even after smoking several joints -- she said she is a reluctant applicant.

"The government shouldn't make people do this. These people have already proven they're sick. These people have proved they're dying or they have chronic illnesses that cannot be helped with other medication. They should not have to do this."

Ottawa introduced the application program to comply with a court-imposed deadline. This winter, an Ontario court gave the federal government six months to provide legal access to marijuana for medical users. Health Canada will appeal that ruling this month.

Myrden said her application was not easy.

The OMCA requires that applicants swear out their forms in front of a lawyer or a commissioner for oaths.

Myrden said it took nearly a dozen calls before she could find a lawyer who would lend a signature and an official seal to her application.

The forms also require applicants to pledge they won't get marijuana or seeds from any other source than Health Canada,.

That pledge has implications for people such as Myrden.

She said it means she would no longer be able to get free marijuana provided by her friends.. On top of this, she buys $1,200 worth each month on the black market, where top-quality marijuana sells for between $200 and $800 an ounce. The government's supply goes for $5 a gram, or $140 an ounce.

Myrden smokes about 12 grams of marijuana and eats marijuana butter -- a pesto-like blend of leaves, stems and butter -- every day to control her pain, to relieve muscle spasms and to keep down her other medications, which include a variety of strong pain-killers.

When she has access to decent marijuana, Myrden says she can cut her other drug dose to less than half.

Myrden also had to persuade her doctor to accept the marijuana on her behalf. This can be a significant hurdle.

Many doctors have said they won't accept delivery of government marijuana, even if it's legal. The Canadian Medical Association has warned doctors they shouldn't be distributing marijuana, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association, a collective insurance and defense pool for Canadian doctors, has warned that doing so could put doctors at legal risk.

There are more practical considerations, too.

In an interview, Philippe Lucas, a medical user who is director of Canadians for Safe Access, a lobby group, said most "compassion clubs" that supply marijuana to sick Canadians have security systems to thwart thieves. He said many doctors offices don't have such precautions in place.

Lucas said he is skeptical of the government's process.

"[The government] is seeking to overturn this decision, to stop the distribution of medical cannabis as we speak," said Lucas, referring to the ministry's court fight.

Lucas also said the government' cannabis is likely inferior to what can be obtained on the street.

The ministry's cannabis access office has said its marijuana contains about 10 per cent tetra-hydro-cannibol, the key compound that causes marijuana's high. However, Lucas said the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, of which he is a director, tested seven of its strains of marijuana, and found between 18 per cent and 24.5 per cent THC content of in each of them.

Copyright © 2003, Vancouver Sun