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Red tape brings gripes about Canada's new medical marijuana regulations
By The Associated Press

TORONTO New regulations took effect Monday expanding the number of Canadians allowed to use medical marijuana, but those eligible say the system resembles a bureaucratic maze likely to delay hundreds more from participating.

The rules are part of the first system in the world that includes a government-approved and paid-for supply of marijuana for people suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis or severe arthritis.

Patients may grow their own pot, or designate someone to grow it for them. In addition, the health department is paying a Saskatchewan company to grow government marijuana for eligible patients and use in research.

While medical marijuana advocates in the United States look at the Canadian system with envy, some users north of the border complain hurdles remain in place.

"I still have to fend for myself," said Jim Bridges, 37, who already has government permission to use marijuana for the pain and nausea of AIDS. He automatically comes under the new regulations, but is awaiting word on how to submit a photo for the identification card legal pot smokers will have to carry.

Almost 300 Canadians such as Bridges previously were exempted from federal drug laws that make it a criminal offense to grow and possess marijuana. Health department officials say hundreds more have applied, and the figure could reach the thousands.

Roslyn Tremblay, a Health Canada spokeswoman, said Monday that application forms under the new regulations would be available "very soon," but she was unable to provide a specific date.

To join up, applicants must submit verifiable medical records and have a doctor's endorsement. Cases except for critically terminal patients require further supporting documents from another doctor.

The new rules permit drug possession for the terminally ill with a prognosis of death within one year; those with symptoms associated with specific serious medical conditions; and those with other medical conditions who have statements from two doctors saying conventional treatments have not worked. Eligible patients include those with severe arthritis, cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

The government regulations meet a court-ordered deadline for Canada to create a system for terminally ill patients previously exempted from criminal marijuana laws to have a legal way to obtain the drug.

The Canadian Medical Association, which represents tens of thousands of doctors, opposes the new regulations because they make physicians responsible for prescribing a substance that lacks significant clinical research on its effects. Without the cooperation of doctors, patients cannot get medical marijuana exemptions.

In Flin Flon, Manitoba, a mining town hundreds of miles north of the U.S. border, Prairie Plant Systems is growing marijuana in a former copper mine under a government contract worth more than $3.5 million.

It expects the first harvest this fall of marijuana that will be supplied by the government to eligible patients and used for research on its therapeutic effects. Company head Brent Zettl employs the same techniques that were used to grow berries and roses in the tapped-out mine beneath Trout Lake.

South of the border, eight U.S. states have taken some kind of step toward permitting the medicinal use of marijuana: California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada and Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled earlier this year that there is no exception in federal law for people to use marijuana, so even those with tolerant state laws could face arrest if they do.

"We're kind of envious of Canadians having the luxury of complaining about the minutiae of the program," said Chuck Thomas of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project.

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