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Pubdate: Wednesday, October 6, 1999
Source: Calgary Herald (Canada)
Copyright: 1999 Calgary Herald
Address: P.O. Box 2400, Stn. M, Calgary, Alberta T2P 0W8
Fax: (403) 235-7379
Author: Bruce Cheadle; Canadian Press


Ottawa -- Another 14 Canadians are free to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes today even as the government takes an epileptic to court for suppressing his seizures with therapeutic pot.

Health Minister Allan Rock's announcement Tuesday in Ottawa that 14 new exemptions have been granted under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was greeted with cautious optimism and open cynicism by medicinal-use activists.

"(Today) we'll be announcing that 14 additional persons will be granted exemptions under the legislation . . . because they're very sick or they're dying," Mr. Rock announced after a cabinet meeting.

"They've satisfied us they're legitimate cases."

Calgary pot crusader Grant Krieger who uses pot to ease the effects of multiple sclerosis, is not one of the 14.

That Rock chose to scoop his own news conference a day early left pot activists remained highly suspicious of his motives.

The constitutionality of Ottawa's marijuana laws will be challenged today in a Toronto court, and one of the contested cases involves Toronto epileptic Terry Parker. In 1997, a lower court ruled Mr. Parker's use of marijuana was "therapeutic," a ruling the Crown is appealing.

"The government's in a very embarrassing position to have to appeal this ruling," Mr. Parker's lawyer, Aaron Harnett, said yesterday.

"Why are they taking medicine from a sick guy? So this announcement helps to take some of the smell out of the air when they go to court.

"It sure makes them seem less harsh and unfeeling in trying to take away Terry's pot."

Rock said some details on clinical trials for medical marijuana will be released today, along with a complete business plan to look for a domestic source of the weed. Some of those who are ill have complained they're too sick to grow their own, and their suppliers have no legal immunity.

"As you know, we're new to this line of work so we're doing the best we can to cope," Mr. Rock said.

"What motivates us is the humanitarian approach, a compassionate approach to those who are very sick or dying and who believe that access to marijuana will help relieve their suffering."

Mr. Rock said that out of about 100 applications received by his department, 20 were considered complete rather than simply expressions of interest. No applications have been rejected outright, he said, and more exemptions may be granted.

"It's an exciting time," said Hillary Black, founder of the Compassion Club in Vancouver, which supplies medicinal cannabis to more than 900 people.

The Compassion Club is a non-profit, provincially registered charity and the majority of its clients have a prescription or recommendation from their doctor.

"There's such a huge need and this is happening pretty slowly, really," said Ms. Black.

"I think any person that has a prescription from their doctor should be considered legal. I don't think Allan Rock is in a position to be determining who does and who doesn't need cannabis.

"I'm just afraid we're going to get stuck in this exemption process rather than creating some kind of legislation where if a patient has a prescription, they're legal."

A government spokesman said applicants must have a doctor's approval and the drug must be shown to have a medical benefit. Some sufferers believe the banned substance relieve the symptons of such disease as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and manic depression.

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