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Medicinal Marijuana Issue Heats Up In N.s

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HALIFAX - Health-care professionals in Atlantic Canada's largest
health-care district are scrambling to put out a fire quietly started
by a patient permitted to smoke marijuana for pain relief.

Health Canada's OK for the patient to light up preceded development of
a policy on medicinal marijuana, leaving Capital Health caught between
health-care staff wanting to provide the best treatment possible and
the same staff wanting to breathe smoke-free air.

"It poses a problem," Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia
Government and General Employees Union, said in an interview.

"Capital Health didn't foresee this and have a policy in place. They
got caught off guard."

A policy on medical marijuana is in the works but not yet completed,
said Karen MacRury-Sweet, Capital Health's interim vice-president of
acute care, adding that the extent of the reaction to the situation
took the administration by surprise. "There was a lot more feedback
from staff than we expected. We learned a lot.

"The biggest issue," she added, "is air quality."

Jessome, whose union represents nurses throughout the Capital Health
district, stressed hospital employees were concerned for their health.

"This is a health issue. Health-care workers were finding (the smoke)
offensive and worried about their health-as they should have been."

Neil Collishaw, research director for Physicians for a Smoke-Free
Canada, couldn't agree more. "Smoke is smoke," he said in an
interview. "If you roll up dried leaves in a bit of paper and light up
in indoor places, there are going to be problems. It doesn't matter
whether it's tobacco, marijuana or lettuce leaves."

The situation places health-care facilities such as Capital Health in
a difficult spot wedged between occupational health and safety
legislation, and related concerns and effective patient treatment. In
the end, said MacRury-Sweet, "the patient comes first."

In the case of the patient at the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Health
Sciences Centre, a compromise was reached that involved putting the
patient in an empty room to light up. According to Jessome, the room
had an open window for ventilation while a towel was placed under the
door sill to prevent smoke from entering the hallway. A heavy-duty
hepa filter was installed in the room shortly after the patient began
using it, said MacRury-Sweet.

Collishaw disapproves of making exceptions for patients permitted to
smoke marijuana. "There should not be special provisions made for them
in places where smoking is banned," he said. Last year, Capital Health
became the first health authority in the province to go smoke-free.

>From the provincial government's point of view, the issue is a
treatment issue that needs to be dealt with by each district health

"It's not included in our smoke-free places (legislation) and it won't
be," said Wendy Barnable, spokeswoman for the Office of Health Promotion.

The provincial government proclaimed the Smoke-Free Places Act in 2002
and it came into effect on Jan. 1, 2003. The legislation, acclaimed as
one of the strongest provincial anti-smoking laws in the country,
provides a total ban on smoking anywhere there are youth under 19,
including hospitals.

Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jan 2004
Source: Medical Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2004 The Medical Post
Contact: medpost@rmpublishing.com
Website: Canadian Healthcare Network |