Toronto Hemp Company

Manitoulin Expositor

AUGUST 8 , 2001

Canada first country to allow medicinal use of marijuana

by Michael Erskine

OTTAWA---Cartoonists, comedians and front porch commentators have had a field day with the recent announcement by the Ministry of Health of new guidelines for the medical use of marijuana. Although the announcement makes Canada the first industrialized country in the world to legalize pot for the relief of pain and suffering due to a wide range of ailments, the decision to allow its use has more to do with politics than medicine, according to local doctors and the countries medical associations. The speed with which the government has moved to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes has eclipsed the normal process for vetting a drug for use by humans, according to local Medical Association President Dr. Steven Cooper. "It is a bit bizarre actually," said Dr. Cooper. "Basically there is a medicine out there, without the proper clinical trials, about which we really know very little regarding side effects and its interactions with other medicines." "It's hard, you can't prescribe it in the normal way, it is more of an alternate medicine that doesn't fit in with our traditional methods," he said. Although marijuana is available in tablet form, it has not been as effective as traditional treatment methods. Dr. Cooper surmised that by smoking the drug it is delivered to the bloodstream much faster than by tablet, and that may play a part in the efficacy of the medicine. But, Dr. Cooper noted that the delivery mechanism, smoking the drug and holding the smoke in the lungs, "is a very odd delivery mechanism indeed." He pointed out that modern medicine has a wide range of inhalers that could deliver the drug as quickly, but that the process has not been perfected regarding marijuana yet. Although generally regarded as benign, especially by the people who utilize marijuana as a recreational drug, Dr. Cooper as a medical professional has a different perspective. "It effects people in a different way. People have different reactions. I have seen people have a 'bad trip' on marijuana," he said. "In addition to a shortage of information on the short term effects and interactions of marijuana, the question of long term effects is very poorly understood. We just don't know. It is a very unusual way to bring a drug to market." Dr. Cooper also stated his concerns that the question of addiction has not been dealt with satisfactorily. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) do not have a policy or position on the use of marijuana as such. "Our position is that we abide by the rules of the land. We don't really have a position, we look at the legislation put out by the government and we figure out how we are going to implement it," said Inspector Allan Hugh of the Corporate Communications Office at the provincial headquarters of the OPP in Orillia. The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) does have a position however, and they "stand firm in opposition to the legalization of any type of current illicit drug, which includes marijuana or its derivatives," according to their published 1999 drug policy. "As to the medicinal use of marijuana and any and all current illicit drugs, the OCAP, as with all Canadians, are concerned with the potential hazards, the health care costs, safe storage, misuse, and a host of other issues," said the written policy, which goes on to express confidence in Health Canada scientists and federal legislators to take action in the best interest of all Canadians. The OACP has not yet released a position on the current changes in marijuana's status. Although he has not yet been approached personally to prescribe medical pot, Dr. Cooper knows of a number of his colleagues on Manitoulin Island who have. "The drug does present a great deal of difficulty in how you approach prescribing the medication. Without clinical trials or documentation, it places doctors in a very uncomfortable position. Basically if you have an ailment that is listed under the regulations, and you have a history of using the drug and found it tobe useful, then a physician would consider it as part of the treatment, but it is a very odd way to work and I think just about everyone, as medical professionals, are uncomfortable with it," he said. The change in status for the medicinal use of marijuana was the result of a 1997 lower court decision in the case of Terrance Parker who uses marijuana to help control his epilepsy. The court decided, and was upheld on appeal on July 31, 2000, that the laws outlawing medicinal use were unconstitutional and that there were serious flaws to the exemptions granted under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). The court decided that the laws were invalid and of no force and effect, but gave a one year suspension to the decision to avoid leaving a gap in the regulatory scheme. Under the new regulations, a permit to possess and/or grow marijuana for medical purposes will be allowed under a permit from Health Canada. The categories include: Category 1, for patients with a terminal illness with a prognosis of death within 12 months. This category is perceived to be less of a concern because long-term effects are not an issue. Category 2, is for patients who suffer from specific symptoms associated with some serious medical conditions, for example weight loss caused by HIV/AIDS or persistent spasms from the effects of Multiple Sclerosis. Specific statements from a medical practitioner and the support of medical specialists are required in this category and other treatments will have to be shown to be medically appropriate for the reasons outlined in the Regulations. Category 3 is for patients who have symptoms associated with medical conditions other than those in the other two categories. Two medical specialist recommendations are required under this category due to less conclusive scientific evidence to support its use in this role, again, conventional therapies must have been used or considered and not found appropriate. A list of therapies tried must be submitted with this category. For all three categories, the authorization to possess marijuana for a medical purpose will specify a minimum quantity of marijuana equal to a 30-day treatment supply at any given time, and there are additional limits and controls if the amount exceeds five grams per day. Licenses to grow marijuana for personal medical use will require, in addition to possession eligibility requirements, that a person be ordinarily a resident in Canada and be of 18 years of age. Complaints abound in the media about the slowness and difficulty of making the new rules work. Marijuana from Prairie Plant Systems of Flin Flon Manitoba's underground pot farm, the only current licensed producer will not be available until December, and at five to six percent THC canibinols (the active ingredient in marijuana) it will be much less potent than the street level 20 percent, raising concerns about added danger from inhalation and the questions about cost. A daily dose of five to seven grams would cost up to $21. from the authorized source, but the more potent and readily available street product would likely cost in excess of $70. for the same dosage. A number of discreet organizations, such as Toronto's Compassion Centre, have been supplying people with the requisite documentation with a current source of the medicine. The current situation creates a gross irony, where people are legally able to use the medication and yet must go to illegal sources in order to secure an adequate supply. It is unlikely that drug dealers will give a medical receipt or that insurers would be likely to honour such a receipt under any drug plan. Canada is the first western country to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes

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