VANCOUVER -- A defiant group of British Columbians is to announce later
today the official opening of what they call Canada's first marijuana
factory, posing a direct and highly visible challenge to federal marijuana
laws.

The facility on a street of rundown homes in a Vancouver suburb is set up
to process a crop of 110 marijuana plants, from cuttings or seeds, into
moist dark pellets that dissolve easily in olive oil or butter. The
pellets, which contain concentrated doses of marijuana's psychoactive
ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, are called THC balls.

With consistent production standards, the producers say the process will
offer marijuana users the option of ingesting the drug in a bowl of soup,
biscuits, cakes and a wide variety of other foods. The federal government
has sent out mixed signals about medicinal marijuana. Former health
minister Allan Rock set up a system to distribute marijuana for medicinal
purposes to hundreds of people but his successor Anne McLellan put brakes
on the program.

For those not covered by the program, possession, cultivation and
distribution of marijuana remains illegal. Canada spends between
$300-million and $500-million annually on enforcement of the marijuana laws.

Michael Maniotis, spokesman for the group that is running the facility,
said yesterday the factory is run under licences issued by Health Canada
that exempt from marijuana laws those who are terminally ill. The THC balls
produced at the factory will be given to three licence holders at no cost.

However, he declined to comment on the legality of the group's plans to
distribute THC balls to physicians, researchers or others who may not have
Health Canada licences for medicinal marijuana.

"The answer will be in the attitude of the federal government," he said as
colleagues were arranging marijuana plants for display during the official
opening.

"Is the government ready to chase down doctors who want to prescribe
[marijuana] to their cancer patients?" he said.

The production line has been set up to show the federal government what is
possible, he added.

"I hope we can eventually get a contract from Health Canada to provide this
[the THC balls] to millions of ailing Canadians," Mr. Maniotis said.

Health Canada spokesman Andrew Swift said the federal government has issued
817 licences to Canadians to possess marijuana for medical purposes and 214
licences to allow production of marijuana for medical purposes. Health
Canada has also designated 17 people to grow marijuana for a person
licensed to use it, he said in an interview from Ottawa.

An officer who answered the phone at the police station said no one was
available yesterday to comment on the factory.

Pubdate: Mon, 30 Sep 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Contact: letters@globeandmail.ca