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Newshawk: puff_tuff
Pubdate: Tue, 23 Apr 2002
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2002 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Paul Samyn


OTTAWA -- Canada's first crop of medicinal marijuana grown deep within a Flin Flon mine shaft is suddenly no longer ready to be toked and Health Canada has no idea when its much-ballyhooed joints will be in the hands of waiting patients.

In a surprising turnaround for the internationally ground-breaking project, distribution plans are being put on hold for clinical trials.

"We need to fully understand what the risks and benefits are," Farah Mohamed, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Anne McLellan said yesterday.

Mohamed denied there has been any change in policy or process to the medicinal marijuana program since McLellan took over the file from Allan Rock in January's cabinet shuffle.

But in December, Health Canada announced the Manitoba-grown marijuana had been given the green light after extensive testing and the only step remaining was to ready a distribution system for the pot.

"The plan is proceeding on schedule," one official said of the program shortly before Christmas. "Health Canada now plans to contact the 680 patients to see if they are interested." Mohamed yesterday said there is no timeline in place for when the pot will be cleared for use and distributed to registered patients.

"The only timeline which guides us is making sure the steps are followed to mitigate the risks," she said.

NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis said the program is definitely being delayed and is further evidence of chaos within the department.

"Short of a change of policy, there is no reason why this program should be on hold," Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North-Centre) said.

Wasylycia-Leis said the change of heart on medicinal marijuana is yet another example of McLellan having to clean up messes left behind by Rock. (McLellan also took over from Rock as justice minister after he was roundly criticized for a controversial gun-control law.)

"The medicinal marijuana program was introduced with such fanfare by minister Rock and yet once again, things are being left in limbo," she said. Prairie Plant Systems, the Saskatoon-based firm that won the $5.7-million contract to cultivate the pot, wasn't commenting yesterday on the program or its crop.

Health Canada's compassionate marijuana program, introduced last summer, allows the terminally ill and those suffering from serious medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS/HIV and epilepsy to possess and even grow marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

In December, Health Canada said its distribution system, which may make use of pharmacies, will depend on how many eligible patients opt for the Flin Flon-grown pot.

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