Can you really get cannabis on prescription? Of course you can, if you live in Canada, says Anne McIlroy
Monday May 21, 2001
The Canadian government is busy growing a huge stash of marijuana away from prying eyes and, if demand exceeds supply, it will encourage selected members of the public to grow their own.
Has the normally staid administration turned drug dealer? No. From July, terminally ill patients with a year or less to live will be able to smoke or ingest pot as part of their pain management.
The federal health department is paying a biotechnology company to grow marijuana in greenhouses hundreds of feet underground in an unused part of a zinc and copper mine near the small town of Flin Flon, Manitoba.
The subterranean, hi-tech pot farm was chosen to keep out thieves. By the end the year, the company, Prairie Plant Systems, will begin supplying the first of 1,865kg of marijuana in cigarette and dried leaf form.
That amount will not meet medicinal demand, and the health department refuses to use dope confiscated by the Mounties because it might contain impurities.
So last month, the health minister, Allan Rock, who has returned to politics after successfully fighting prostate cancer, announced new rules that will allow patients to grow their own. If they cannot or do not want to, the government will license more third-party pot suppliers to grow it for them.
"Canada is acting compassionately by allowing people who are suffering from grave and debilitating illnesses to have access to marijuana for medical purposes," Mr Rock said.
But complaining of headaches or other minor ailments will not guarantee a regular supply. Under the new rules, which are expected to take effect this July, patients with Aids, multiple sclerosis and severe forms of arthritis will be given permission to smoke the drug if they can prove that other medications do not help relieve muscle spasms, seizures, severe pain, nausea, weight loss, anorexia and other symptoms.
Mr Rock and his Liberal government were pushed towards their new policy by the courts, which ruled last year that the country's marijuana laws are not constitutional because they do not recognise that the drug has medicinal uses.
He insists that decriminalising marijuana for medical purposes is not the first step towards decriminalising all pot smoking. A conviction for possessing cannabis for non-medicinal purposes can result in up to five years in jail.
Other politicians are pushing for decriminalisation. Last week, backbench MPs launched a debate in parliament that could lead to the decriminalisation of marijuana. They set up a committee to study solutions to the use of banned narcotics. Liberal, New Democratic party and Bloc Quebecois MPs say they want the committee to look at whether recreational drug use should remain a criminal act.
Members of the medical community are also pushing for a review. The current issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal calls for the decriminalisation of marijuana for personal use.
Then there is the Canadian Marijuana Party, which campaigned against the persecution of cannabis in last autumn's federal election. It collected a surprising 65,500 votes in the last election, and says it will continue fighting to legalise the drug.
Over the border, American patients have not been so lucky. Last week, the US supreme court ruled against the medical use of marijuana.