TORONTO, The Canadian government announced an interim plan Wednesday
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 clini
cal 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

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.

Pubdate: Thursday, July 10, 2003
Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Clifford Krauss