Canada will start selling cheap marijuana to seriously ill people seeking
relief from pain, becoming the first country in the world to supply
so-called medical marijuana directly to patients.

Acting under court pressure, Health Canada, the federal health department,
said on Wednesday that 1650 pouches of marijuana were already packed and
ready for sale to patients suffering from pain or nausea as the result of
disease, cancer, AIDS and other serious sickness. Pot will also be sold to
people not expected to live more than a year.

Supplies should begin moving by next week, and the marijuana grown under
government contract will be more reliably potent than anything sold on the

"It's a splendid product, with a THC content of 10 per cent," Cindy
Cripps-Prawak, director of the federal office of Cannabis Medical Access, said.

Tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive chemical in pot; police say street
marijuana has THC levels of 3 to 16per cent.

Health Canada also said it would provide marijuana seeds to "authorised
persons" wanting to grow their own so long as the purpose was medicinal.

Officials said 582 ill individuals had already been approved for the
program, although tens of thousands are expected to apply for the
government marijuana, grown beneath artificial light in hydroponic vats.

Canada officially created its medical marijuana program in 2001, but the
scheme quickly became bogged down in bureaucratic delays. In January an
Ontario court gave Ottawa six months to start dispensing pot, ruling that
federal drug laws made "seriously ill, vulnerable people deal with the
underworld to get medicine".

The Government is appealing against the ruling.

The Health Minister, Anne McClellan, a skeptic of medical maijuana use,
said that the government would conduct its own clinical trials of marijuana
to gauge possible benefits.

Canadian medical organisations oppose the government program because of the
lack of clinical trials.

"There is no scientific proof of either the effectiveness or safety [of
marijuana] for short-or long-term use," said Dana Hanson, president of the
Canadian Medical Association.

Wednesday's announcement comes six weeks after the Federal Government
introduced a bill decriminalising possession of small amounts of marijuana
and only days after it approved a trial safe injecting room in Vancouver
for intravenous drug users.

The government price for medical marijuana will be $C5 ($5.50) a gram -
less than half the average street price.

Sale of medical marijuana will be limited to people with chronic or
catastrophic illnesses, including cancer, HIV or AIDS, arthritis and
multiple sclerosis, or mystery ailments that cause serious pain or nausea
but cannot be readily diagnosed.

Patients will be urged to eat or drink it rather than smoke it. Doctors and
specialists must authorise patients to obtain marijuana.

The Boston Globe, The New York Times

Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jul 2003
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2003 The Sydney Morning Herald