Prairie Plant Systems maintains its marijuana is 'better in quality' than most U.S. strains
Thursday, May 16, 2002
The Ottawa Citizen
The company that's growing Canada's official marijuana supply says the weed has turned out to be too potent.
The marijuana is not bad -- the problem is it's too good, Prairie Plant Systems said yesterday in a letter to Health Minister Anne McLellan.
Company president Brent Zettl is angry about the company's "damaged reputation" arising from Ms. McLellan's revelations that the project to give marijuana to sick Canadians has been delayed because the supply is impure. That sparked news reports of bad weed.
"Prairie Plant has respected the Health Canada request to not speak to the media regarding this project," wrote Mr. Zettl.
"We request that Health Canada respond to these false reports in order to maintain the integrity of the project and begin repairing the damage these negative reports have created."
Ms. McLellan said last week the distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes is behind schedule because the first crop of nearly 2,000 plants contains 185 different kinds of marijuana.
The seeds came from marijuana seized by police after the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the U.S. refused to share the seeds it cultivates for scientific research.
"As you are aware, this project has been fraught with many unforeseen logistical issues," wrote Mr. Zettl.
"Most interestingly, virtually all the strains we have tested appear to be better in quality than the U.S. NIDA material. In most cases, the strains under development have significantly higher cannabinoids levels."
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the critical chemical in marijuana) is commonly two times greater in concentration than the U.S. stuff, Mr. Zettl said.
The government gave a $5.7-million contract to Prairie Plant Systems to grow the marijuana at an underground mine in Flin Flon, Man.
In his letter, Mr. Zettl asked for the contract to be amended so Health Canada can receive the stronger-than-expected drug.
Andrew Swift, a spokesman for Health Canada, said that the department wants to test the stronger marijuana before deciding if it will change the contract to buy more potent marijuana.
The current contract calls for THC levels of 5 to 6 per cent, he said. Mr. Zettl says a concentration of 9.5 to 11 per cent would be "more appropriate for clinical research material."
Mr. Zettl could not be reached for comment.
The government is now having its marijuana tested to find the best strain so that a quality, standardized seed can be used for the second crop of plants.
Ms. McLellan has said the government has an obligation to ensure the marijuana it provides people is of a consistent quality -- in part because the drug would be given out as part of clinical trials to determine if anecdotal claims are true about the medicinal benefits.
Without a standardized crop, she said, researchers monitoring the sick patients would have no way of knowing if the marijuana is having the desired effects.
Until then, sick Canadians who were approved to smoke marijuana and were counting on the official supply will have to wait.
New regulations came into effect last summer that allow certain patients with chronic or terminal illnesses to apply to Health Canada for permission to use marijuana.
The approval applies to patients who have less than a year to live; those suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, severe arthritis or epilepsy; and to patients suffering from other conditions, if marijuana is recommended by two specialists.
Those who qualify can grow marijuana on their own, have another approved grower do it for them, or get the weed from the government.
As of last month, the government had given permission to 205 sick Canadians
to smoke marijuana.
© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen