Newshawk: CMAP (http://www.mapinc.org/cmap)
Pubdate: Wed, 18 Sep 2002
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Toronto Star
Author: Tracey Tyler, Legal Affairs Reporter
OTTAWA BACK-PEDALLING ON POT, CRITICS BELIEVE
Official Denies Open Distribution Was Planned
A federal official says the government never had any intention of providing chronically ill Canadians with medical marijuana grown for Health Canada, despite promises from former health minister Allan Rock that it would be available for "medical" use.
The government planned all along to use the drug only in clinical trials, said Cindy Cripps-Prawak, director of Health Canada's cannabis medical access program.
Cripps-Prawak's statements are contained in a transcript of an out-of-court cross-examination conducted in preparation for a two-day hearing scheduled to begin tomorrow.
Ten Canadians are asking the Ontario Superior Court to order Health Canada to provide them with the marijuana, grown in Manitoba, and to strike down federal regulations as unconstitutional surrounding the distribution of the drug.
Alan Young, a Toronto lawyer and professor who cross-examined Cripps-Prawak, said in an interview it's unclear whether the government has radically changed its policy regarding distributing marijuana to chronically ill people or whether it was deceiving Canadians all along.
The evidence in the case seems to indicate that Health Canada was on the verge of having a network for distributing the plant, he said, adding that federal officials were considering making it available through a special access program for unapproved drugs.
But Cripps-Prawak said the only purpose behind the operation was "valid scientific research." Late last year, the federal government drafted, but never sent, a letter to Canadians granted federal exemptions to use medical marijuana. In it, Health Canada said it would limit just how free it could be in distributing the pot.
"Unlike an illegal or illicit grow operation, we are attempting to meet stringent standards for the production of a pharmaceutical product," Cripps-Prawak said under questioning on June 27. "This is not like growing tomatoes."
During her cross-examination, Cripps-Prawak suggested there was a misunderstanding about what the federal government meant by "medical" use.
While it's become clear that some medical marijuana users took that to mean ready access to the government supply, what Health Canada meant by "medical" purposes was that the drug would be available through "open label clinical trials," she said.
Open label trials differ from regular clinical trials because patients know for sure they are getting the drug, not a placebo, and are being monitored by their family physicians.
Young said not one government document ever talked about open-label trials.
Cripps-Prawak admitted that she couldn't point to a specific document where open-label trials had been mentioned and said the references to medical use had been vague. "But I don't believe it has ever been the intent of this particular department ... to make marijuana freely available to the exempted Canadians without the context of some sort of monitoring and research," she said.