Wednesday, July 9, 2003
By Kim Lunman and Brian Laghi
The Globe and Mail
After years of delay, Ottawa will announce today a plan to use its marijuana grower in Manitoba to supply patients who have been given the right to use the drug for medical purposes, sources say.
Facing a court-imposed deadline, Health Minister Anne McLellan will reveal in Edmonton how the government plans to release the drug to patients who have received medical exemptions from Canada's possession laws, sources told The Globe and Mail.
They said Ottawa will use its marijuana grower at Flin Flon, Man., to supply patients. The government had previously told the company, Prairie Plant Systems, that the drug content of its marijuana was too inconsistent. The company has worked on refinements, but it was not clear yesterday whether the problem is fixed.
Prairie Plant Systems was asked three months ago to begin preparing one individual supply of the drug for a person who had qualified to take it, a source said.
Advocates for those trying to obtain cannabis warned that the victory may be short-lived because the government has been dragged kicking and screaming into the process.
At the end of the month, Ottawa is appealing the court order that forces it to take today's step.
The Ontario Superior Court ruled in January that Health Canada's medical-marijuana access regulations are unconstitutional because the government did not provide a way for the drug to be distributed.
The regulations were Ottawa's attempt to respond to an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in 2000 that the government's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was unconstitutional because it failed to provide an exception for medical use of marijuana.
The Superior Court judgment gave Health Canada six months to rectify the situation or the permits for medicinal marijuana users would become invalid as of today.
Approximately 500 Canadians have received permission to use the drug.
Currently, patients exempt from the law are allowed to grow the drug themselves or designate someone to do it for them.
However, lawyers have said the system is imperfect because the act of obtaining seeds to grow the cannabis is considered trafficking.
Many individuals also don't know where to get a supply, and need the government to provide it.
Alan Young, the lawyer who brought the case forcing today's move, said he believes the government will move slowly in releasing the cannabis in the hope of winning the appeal.
Mr. Young said that, in his own discussions with the department, government officials have been extremely reluctant to release the drug out of fear that Ottawa may become liable for any dangerous side effects.
"They're doing this with their fingers crossed behind their backs," he said. "They've been boxed in."
Last night, sources said that medical doctors would have a role to play in delivering the substance, although it was unclear what that would be.
Philippe Lucas of Victoria, who has hepatitis C and has received an exemption permit, said he needed the support of several doctors and specialists before he got permission to consume the drug.
Medicinal marijuana users, along with several MPs and Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, will protest today in Ottawa and Halifax to demand the government change its regulations.
Debbie Stultz-Giffin, a 45-year-old mother of four who lives in Halifax, said Ottawa was making criminals out of sick people by refusing to change its policies until now.
Ms. Stultz-Giffin was given a medical exemption after her multiple sclerosis was diagnosed.
She says she does not want to go to jail for buying marijuana, which makes her feel better.
"None of us is optimistic that the government is going to pull the frying pan out of the fire on this," she said, calling for Ms. McLellan to resign.
"She's abused chronically ill Canadians."
Libby Davies, a New Democratic Party MP from Vancouver and member of the House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, said it's time to make marijuana available to those who have the permits, or else the government is creating a criminal Catch-22.
"They've completely botched up the program," she said.
"They make it impossible for people to get access, and people are suffering
as a result."
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