Health Canada announced yesterday the first batch of medicinal
marijuana will be available as of Jan. 1, and is of "good quality."

The government will be contacting the more than 680 Canadians
authorized to possess marijuana for medical purposes to determine
whether they are interested in purchasing the weed.

However, there are two questions that haven't been answered: the
price, and how it will be distributed.

"As far as any distribution plan is concerned, it will have to ensure
three things: privacy of the patients, security and reliability," said
a Health Canada source. "Price is something that is yet to be
determined. The marijuana will be affordable, but it will depend on
demand and the distribution mechanism."

The government signed a deal last year with Prairie Plant Systems of
Saskatoon to grow the marijuana in an underground mine in Flin Flon,
Man. The company has harvested 185 kilograms for Jan. 1.

During a visit to the mine last August, Health Minister Allan Rock
said medicinal marijuana is justified on "compassionate grounds" for
patients suffering from intolerable pain.

The Canadian Medical Association, however, has argued against the
policy, noting Health Canada has not yet approved marijuana as a drug.

In the last couple of years, at least 10 "compassion clubs" have set
up across the country, selling marijuana to patients. Pierre Hamel, a
volunteer of the Compassion Club on Rachel St. in Montreal, said
yesterday that he was pleased that there is now a legal supply.

"Basically, it's good news because some people will benefit from
that," Hamel said. "It's a first step, but we have to go much further
than that."

Hamel noted that the federal marijuana contains 5 to 6 per cent THC -
the active ingredient in cannabis - and that's too low for patients in
great pain. The Compassion Club, for example, sell marijuana with THC
levels as high as 17 per cent.

Hamel urged Ottawa to allow compassion clubs to sell pot, saying they
are the most willing and the most experienced.

Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2001 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Pubdate: Sat, 22 Dec 2001