August 27, 2002 Tuesday
The Leader-Post (Regina)
EDMONTON (CP) -- The federal government is not backing away from its plan to supply patients with medical marijuana, Health Minister Anne McLellan said Monday, bristling at earlier reports that the project has been shelved.
Her department hopes clinical trials on research-grade pot can begin at the end of fall or in early winter, McLellan said, refuting suggestions she is not keen to go ahead with the controversial plan to distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"In fact, far from shelving it, what we're doing is implementing the second stage," McLellan said. The first stage was to pass legislation last summer amending drug laws so that people with certain medical conditions -- such as multiple sclerosis, HIV, cancer and Crohn's disease -- could apply for special exemptions that would allow them to use pot to relieve their symptoms.
"We have 855 of those people. More people continue to apply," McLellan said.
After a news report suggested the plan was being shelved, she said some patients called and asked if their exemption was being removed.
"Of course not," McLellan added. "That process is in place. It will continue."
The second stage is clinical trials. "Clinical trials are absolutely key, especially for us in the Department of Health," McLellan said, repeating what she told the Canadian Medical Association earlier this month.
The safety, efficacy and long-term effects of marijuana must be studied -- just like any drug, she said.
"If we let it go on the market and somebody died, you people would be the first to say: 'Oh look, there's the Department of Health not discharging its responsibility in relation to protecting the safety and security of Canadians.' "
Ottawa signed a $5.7-million, four-year contract in 2000 with Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems to grow marijuana for the government. The pot is being grown deep in a former mine in Flin Flon, Man.
The government couldn't go ahead with an earlier crop because it wasn't standardized and therefore not suitable to use in trials, she said.
"They've grown a second crop and we're testing it," McLellan said. "We believe that we have overcome that problem. We have a standardized crop which can be used."
A Health Canada official said in December the first crop was quality-tested and was ready for distribution to patients and researchers.
Prairie Plant Systems declined to comment, saying all information must come from Health Canada.
Medical marijuana users say pot relieves their pain or gives them an
appetite or helps them sleep.
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