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Canada to Offer Marijuana to Medical Patients

ORONTO, July 9 The Canadian government announced an interim plan today that will provide marijuana on a regular basis to several hundred people who are authorized to use the drug for medical reasons.

Coming six weeks after the federal government introduced a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and only days after it approved a trial "safe injection site" in Vancouver for intravenous drug users, the marijuana plan was one more sign that Ottawa is moving in a very different direction on drug policy from the Bush administration.

Thousands of Canadians already visit so-called "compassion clubs" in Vancouver and a few other cities, which distribute marijuana to those who come with a note from a doctor saying that the drug can help their condition. The police have occasionally entered some of the clinics and seized marijuana, but for the most part they function in the open.

The decision to allow the government to provide marijuana to people with illnesses ranging from cancer to arthritis to epilepsy was forced by a ruling in January by the Ontario Superior Court that federal marijuana access regulations were unconstitutional because they did not provide patients with a legal distribution system.

The government is appealing the ruling, meaning that the announcement may not stand.

"It was never our intention to sell the product," said Health Minister Anne McClellan, a skeptic of medical marijuana use.

The cabinet is divided on whether the government should be growing and distributing marijuana, an activity that is otherwise illegal. Ms. McClellan noted today that there is a lack of clinical evidence that marijuana has medicinal benefits. She added that the government will conduct its own clinical trials, scheduled to begin this fall, to gauge possible benefits.

The government says it intends to distribute the marijuana through doctors. Some officials of doctors associations have raised cautions about doing so before there is more study about the impact of marijuana use on people's health.

While the courts decide on the government's appeal, Ottawa will provide as many as 500 people, who have received letters from doctors saying the drug offered them medical benefits, with dried marijuana and marijuana seeds for their own planting.

The marijuana will cost patients almost $4 a gram, or about half the black market price. The bags of seeds will cost about $15. The marijuana will come from an underground laboratory situated in an old mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba.

"This is a very small victory but a victory nevertheless," said Alison Myrden, a multiple sclerosis patient who appeared before television cameras today in front of the Parliament building holding a marijuana plant and smoking a marijuana cigarette.

Source: New York Times
Date: 10 July 2003


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