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Doctor resigns from Health Canada advisory committee on medical pot
Canadian Press

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

OTTAWA (CP) - A Toronto doctor who has AIDS has resigned from Health Canada's advisory committee on medical marijuana, saying he doesn't trust Health Minister Anne McLellan to handle the file.

Greg Robinson, one of two people with serious illnesses on the committee, is upset by McLellan's decision to terminate a study by the Community Research Initiative of Toronto (CRIT) into the use of cannabis as an appetite stimulant. CRIT had spent about $800,000 of a $2-million grant before its funding was terminated in March, just as it was about to begin clinical trials. It has since closed its offices.

Robinson says he reluctantly resorted to smoking marijuana even though he hates the so-called "high," because it allows him to stem his weight loss. But he worries about side effects.

"They just shut the research down and some of us are waiting anxiously to find out if what we're doing to ourselves is really helping," he said.

He said he strongly suspects there's a benefit in his case, but would like scientific evidence. If CRIT's work was unsatisfactory, the work should be carried on by some other group he said.

"I don't have any appetite left with my disease. I had no other options. I went the usual medical route and I ended up a zombie.

"This way I can take a small puff, half a joint, a whole joint before dinner. I do not like being stoned."

McLellan said in an interview that CRIT is being audited, and its funding won't be renewed.

"There have been concerns identified by my officials and those concerns are being followed up," she said.

The health minister said CRIT's work hasn't been wasted, and Health Canada may fund other groups to build on it. She said other cannabis research projects are proceeding.

However there is only one other marijuana project underway, and it deals with the effects of cannabis on pain. Other projects are expected but haven't been approved.

"The loss of CRIT as the only AIDS organization in Canada dedicated solely to HIV/AIDS community-based research, is a tragedy," Robinson said in his letter of resignation to McLellan.

Robinson also disagrees with McLellan's plan to have doctors distribute medical marijuana, saying the drug should be provided through pharmacists and compassion clubs.

The Canadian Medical Association has been highly critical of the proposed system, saying doctors are being forced to provide a drug whose benefits have not been proven in clinical trials.

Robinson said Health Canada has created a "catch 22" dilemma by insisting on clinical evidence before approving marijuana use, but thwarting the clinical trials needed to get the evidence.

"I no longer have faith in your ability to understand compassion for seriously and chronically ill patients," his letter said.

McLellan insisted Health Canada is firmly committed to clinical research into the possible benefits of cannabis.

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