Medical Marijuana

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Feature: Minnesota Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But Veto Looms

After accepting amendments that significantly narrowed the scope of the medical marijuana legislation before it, the Minnesota legislature passed the bill, SF 97, Monday night. But Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has vowed to veto the bill, an act which has probably occurred by the time you read these words.
Minneapolis patient Lynn Rubenstein Nicholson, Minnesotans for Compassionate Care ad
If, as promised, Pawlenty does veto the bill, proponents are not giving up. Instead, they are pondering another shot in the legislature next year, and if Pawlenty remains immune to compromise, they may instead seek a constitutional amendment next year, which would bypass the governor, taking the measure directly to the voters once it passes the legislature again.

The House passed its version of the bill Monday night on a 70-64 vote. The Senate, which had approved its version of the bill last month, accepted the House version, passing it on a 38-28 vote. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans opposing and most Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) members supporting the bill. In neither chamber was the margin of victory large enough to overcome a veto.

The votes came after a day of rancorous debate Monday. Hoping to address law enforcement concerns cited by Pawlenty, the House accepted amendments limiting medical marijuana to terminally ill patients (even excluding cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy) and removing the ability for patients to grow their own plants.

But that wasn't enough for some opponents of the measure. "It is absolutely wrong to refer to this as medical. It is wrong to use the pain and discomfort of sick people to sell this bill," said Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud).

"The bill will be vetoed no matter what form it leaves here. I'm not willing to give up the war on drugs. If we leave this war more people are going to get sick and die," vowed Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder).

If such comments are a normal part of the legislative debate, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano) crossed a line with some of his colleagues. Emmer offered a series of snickering amendments that enraged supporters and led to a heated exchange. One amendment he offered would remove every reference to the words "medical marijuana" and replace it with the word "pot."
Minnesota State Capitol
"We are not talking about medicine. We are not talking about marijuana. Let's call it what it is: 'pot,'" Emmer said. "It is a gateway drug and it has very serious and real physical impact. All we are doing here is legalizing marijuana." He added, "Let's not send the kind of message to the children of the state that marijuana is OK."

One of the bill's authors, Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), reacted angrily. "It might be cute, but the testimony of the families of people who were helped by medical marijuana are very moving," he said, speaking directly to Emmer. "I don't know if you are trying to be cute, but I think your amendment stinks and I would urge members to vote against it."

"You should be ashamed of yourself," said Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth), recalling the struggles his own family members had with cancer.

Even a Republican colleague chastised Emmer. "We have a very serious issue in front of us," said Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan). "We are talking about the quality of people's lives at the end of their lives, the sickest of the sick," he said. "It's not a matter we should be joking about on the House floor."

Emmer responded angrily to his critics. "I didn't bring this here to be cute, to make a mockery," he shouted. "You are taking a drug that has serious consequences for young people in the country, so before you start mocking me for doing what I think is right, think about that! This is no joke!"

The "pot" motion failed, but on a roll, Emmer then offered two more amendments, one to remove the word "medical" from the bill and one to replace "medical marijuana" with "authorized marijuana." Those two amendments also failed.

Now, the measure is in the hands of Gov. Pawlenty, who has consistently said he shared law enforcement's concerns about rising crime and drug use if the measure passed. At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, he announced that he would veto the bill. Then he added, "I have great empathy for patients."

"What he said about empathy for the sick is just a lie," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, whose state affiliate, Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, led the fight for the bill's passage. "You don't show empathy for the sick by throwing them in jail while they're dying."

Overriding a veto isn't a "realistic option," said former Republican state representative Chris DeLaForest, lobbyist for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. "The votes aren't there."

But the effort will continue next year. "We could come back next session and pass it again and try to address Pawlenty's concerns," said DeLaForest. "I'm always optimistic," he said diplomatically. "The legislature doesn't reconvene until February. There's time to work in the interim."

Pawlenty's refusal to sign onto even the watered down version of the bill that finally passed the legislature suggests his stated reasons for opposing it are questionable, said Mirken. "This bill was narrowed down so drastically that even the flimsiest pretexts that he and law enforcement used have evaporated," he said. "They said it would be rife with abuse, but this bill as passed is limited to terminal patients who would have to get their marijuana from a state-licensed dispensary. A lot of suffering and deserving patients would have been left out, but in regards to a coherent reason to veto this, there is none."

Pawlenty is being talked about as a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mirken noted. "One can only assume that this veto is about politics," he said. "This is a guy with political ambitions who thinks he needs to stay on the right side of law enforcement to advance his career. It's a shame he is willing to sacrifice patients on the altar of his ambition."

Blocked by a recalcitrant governor, Minnesota medical marijuana proponents are considering an end run around him next year. Under Minnesota law, the legislature can bypass the governor by voting for a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana use. If such a measure passes the legislature, it would then go directly to a popular vote. With support for medical marijuana at high levels in Minnesota, proponents believe the measure would pass.

If DeLaForest is optimistic, he's also pragmatic. Noting that Pawlenty has proven immune to even the most tightly drawn legislation, DeLaForest said a constitutional amendment was a possibility. "That would be drafted in bill form and would have to pass the legislature, but the governor is essentially written out of the process," he said. "It goes directly onto the ballot for our next election, and medical marijuana is polling at 64% here."

"We have indications that some of our legislative supporters are willing to go that route," said Mirken. "We would certainly support a constitutional amendment at this point. It's sad that we have to, but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes."

Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island House Passes Dispensary Bill

A bill that would allow for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries passed the Rhode Island House Wednesday, paving the way for a showdown with Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, an opponent of medical marijuana. The state Senate passed its version of the bill last month. Now, the two chambers must go through the formality of approving each other's bills. Then the bill will go before the governor.

"To go through cancer, or to go through a debilitating disease is extremely, extremely hard," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), the bill's sponsor and a cancer patient himself. "One day you might feel great, the next day you may have pain all over your body... This bill gives people a safe haven to get help, to get medical marijuana."

Rhode Island lawmakers overrode a Carcieri veto three years ago to make medical marijuana legal in the state. But since then, patients have complained that the measure provided only limited access to marijuana. This year's bill, H5359, addresses that concern by providing for the creation of state-regulated "compassion centers" or dispensaries.

A similar bill passed the Senate last year, only to die in the House. Gov. Carcieri vetoed a compromise measure that would have set up a study commission on the dispensary issue. This year, the measure passed both houses by margins that strongly suggest lawmakers have the votes to override any veto attempt by the governor.

The House leadership appears ready to try an override if necessary. "I would hope that the governor wouldn't veto it, and look at the broader issues raised," said House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D-Providence). "But if he does I think we have the votes to override and I would advocate doing that."

Leading the push for the bill was the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), working with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Their and the legislature's work is not quite done, but they're almost there.

Help pass the best medical marijuana law in the country

Dear Friends:

Yesterday, MPP's campaign committee, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP), launched a signature drive to place a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Arizona.

The initiative would allow seriously ill patients who find relief from marijuana to use it with their doctors' approval, much like the laws in the other 13 medical marijuana states do. What's unique about the Arizona law is that it would permit qualifying patients or their caregivers to legally purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries — so they wouldn't need to obtain it from the criminal market.

The importance of this can't be overstated. Although medical marijuana collectives exist in other states, state laws permitting them are a hodgepodge, leaving them largely unregulated and subject to legal challenges. In Arizona, our initiative would provide clear guidelines for state-regulated dispensaries, thus ensuring safe access for patients — meaning that Arizona would have the best medical marijuana law in the country.

But to get the initiative on the ballot, our campaign committee must collect 153,365 valid signatures from Arizona voters, which means about 250,000 gross signatures. We know from our past successful signature drives, like in Michigan, that it costs about $2 to collect every signature (because of the costs of paying canvassers, checking validity, and so forth), which means it will take $500,000 to fund this stage of the campaign.

Can you help?

As you can see at the bottom of this message, a major philanthropist is willing to match your donation dollar-for-dollar, so AMMPP only needs you and other MPP members to donate a total of $250,000. Arizona patients and I are grateful for anything you can do to help.

The chances of this initiative winning are strong. According to a February 2009 poll, 65% of Arizona voters support removing criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana. And we've contracted with the best political consultants in the Arizona, who are building coalitions with organizations in the state … have hired an experienced campaign manager on the ground in Phoenix … and have already garnered the support of state opinion leaders.

Will you be part of this exciting campaign and help protect another state's medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail?  By donating to our campaign committee here, you can ensure the initiative wins.

Thank you,

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.
United States

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty Wants to Send Dying Cancer Patients to Jail

We knew Gov. Pawlenty was likely to veto medical marijuana legislation due to pressure from law enforcement, but then the bill was changed so that only terminally ill patients would qualify. Surely, the governor would at least agree not to arrest people who are dying, right? Wrong:

He announced his intention to veto the medical marijuana bill at his news conference today. Then, amazingly, he went on to wax rhapsodic about how “The sky is blue, the sun is out. The minds of Minnesotans are turning to Memorial Day, summer, fishing.”

Tell that to Joni Whiting, whose daughter Stephanie gained some comfort and the ability to eat from medical marijuana during the last months of her doomed struggle with melanoma. Pawlenty thinks it’s just fine to treat Joni, Stephanie, and others in that dreadful situation as common criminals. [MPP]

There's no middle ground here. You either think it's ok to arrest dying patients for using doctor recommended medicine, or you don't. If Pawlenty vetoes this bill, he firmly rejects even the vague appearance of compassion for dying patients.

Send him a polite note here.

Press Release: Lepp Sentenced to 10 Years Mandatory Minimum for Medical Marijuana Grow

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 18, 2009 CONTACT: Dale Gieringer at (415) 563- 5858 EDDY LEPP RECEIVES 10 YEAR MANDATORY MINIMUM FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA SAN FRANCISCO -- US District Judge Marilyn Patel sentenced Eddy Lepp to ten years mandatory minimum for having grown over 1,000 marijuana plants for a medical marijuana garden in Lake County. Patel called the sentence "excessive," but said she had no choice under federal law. In addition, she sentenced Lepp to five years of supervised release with drug testing. She invited Lepp to file for a rehearing in case the law should change. Lepp called it "very, very sad" that the government showed no compassion, saying"I've broken no laws of the state in which I reside." He asked that he be allowed to surrender himself voluntarily, noting that he had met every court date over the seven years of his case and that his daughter had health problems. US attorney Dave Hall opposed the request, arguing that the government had new evidence of Lepp's involvement in a marijuana grow that was traced to a neighbor's property last week. Lepp's friends staunchly deny that he had any involvement in the grow. Patel granted Lepp's request and set a surrender date of July 6th, while inviting the government to submit any additional incriminating evidence it might have to demand an earlier surrender. Patel ruled that Lepp was ineligible for the "safety valve" exemption to the mandatory minimum on two grounds. First, the evidence showed that Lepp had been a leader or rganizer of other people in his activity. Secondly, the government claimed that he had failed give a full and truthful account of his activities. At his trial, Lepp had testified that he did not grow any marijuana, but simply let his land be used for cultivation by other patients. The government had asked Lepp to recant this claim and admit that he grew the marijuana. Lepp refused, saying he had testified truthfully. "I've never seen a man work harder to get time in prison than Mr. Lepp," remarked Mr Hall. ""I would rather do ten years and be able to look myself in the eyes than never be able to look myself in the eyes again," said Lepp. The courtroom burst into gasps and sobs as Patel pronounced her sentence. Lepp's attorney, Michael Hinckley, called it an "incredible sentence." Patel responded, "Incredible is what the law requires." Patel noted that Lepp's driving passion appeared to be legalizing marijuana. "Maybe you want to be a martyr for the cause," she said. California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer commented: "This case sadly illustrates the senselessness of federal marijuana laws. The last thing this country needs is more medical marijuana prisoners. Hopefully, we can change the law and get Eddy out of jail before he completes his sentence." --
San Francisco, CA
United States

U.S. Supreme Court Kills Effort to Overturn State Medical Marijuana Laws

Good news! Something bad could have happened, but didn't:

California's medical marijuana law survived its most serious legal challenge today as the U.S. Supreme Court denied appeals by two counties that argued they were being forced to condone violations of federal drug laws.

The justices, without comment, denied a hearing to officials from San Diego and San Bernardino counties who challenged Proposition 215, an initiative approved by state voters in 1996 that became a model for laws in 12 other states. It allows patients to use marijuana for medical conditions with their doctor's recommendation. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Today's result was really a foregone conclusion because it's just a basic fact that states can make their own drug laws. Still, it's good that this happened insofar as it will hopefully serve to silence those who continue to cite conflict between state and federal laws as a reason why no one can have medical marijuana. They are completely wrong and it's amazing how many federal judges had to break it down for them.

For the hundredth time, conflict with federal law is not an obstacle to passing and implementing state laws that permit medical marijuana. Federal law enforcement can come in and cause trouble, but that doesn’t make state laws invalid. Those laws still apply and provide valuable protection against state police, who patients are more likely to come in contact with.

The very idea that federal law somehow cancels out state policies is just some made-up nonsense that enemies of medical marijuana have been spewing in desperation for several years now. Nice try, but you're wrong. Case closed.

Press Release: U.S. Supreme Court Rejects California Counties' Challenge to State Medical Marijuana Laws

[Courtesy of ACLU] FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 18, 2009 CONTACT: Dan Berger at (831) 471-9000 x26 WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal brought by San Diego and San Bernardino counties challenging the validity of California's medical marijuana laws. The Court's order leaves intact the rulings of California's state courts, holding that state medical marijuana laws are entirely valid despite the federal prohibition on marijuana. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented California medical marijuana patients in the proceedings, had urged the Court to decline the counties' challenge. The following may be attributed to Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project: "The Supreme Court's order marks a significant victory for medical marijuana patients and advocates nationwide. This case struck at the core of the contentious intersection between state and federal medical marijuana policy, and, once again, it is clear that state medical marijuana laws are fully valid. Coupled with the Department of Justice's recent pronouncements that the agency will respect state medical marijuana laws, the Court's order leaves ample room for states to move forward with enacting and implementing independent medical marijuana policies." The ACLU's opposition brief to the Court can be found online at: ###
United States

Press Release: Supreme Court Squashes Challenge to Prop. 215

MAY 18, 2009   

Supreme Court Squashes Challenge to Prop. 215
Advocates Press Counties to Issue ID Cards as Court Refuses to Hear San Diego/San Bernardino Suit

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case brought by San Diego and San Bernardino Counties that sought to challenge the validity of California's medical marijuana laws, removing the last obstacle to medical marijuana ID cards being issued to qualified patients throughout California. Nine counties have failed to begin issuing the state-mandated cards, often citing the San Diego lawsuit as a reason.

     "The court has flattened the last faint justification for counties refusing to issue ID cards to legally qualified medical marijuana patients," said MPP California policy director Aaron Smith. "We expect all nine counties that have delayed issuing cards to start following the law immediately and stop putting patients at needless risk."

     San Diego County, which is required by California law to issue ID cards to legally qualified medical marijuana patients, had challenged the state law, claiming it was preempted by federal anti-marijuana statutes (a claim that had never even made by the federal government, despite its opposition to medical marijuana). San Bernardino County had joined the litigation. The preemption claim was firmly rejected by every court that reviewed the case. The California 4th District Court of Appeals wrote in its unanimous ruling, "Congress does not have the authority to compel the states to direct their law enforcement personnel to enforce federal laws."  After the California Supreme Court refused to hear San Diego's appeal, the counties went to the U.S. Supreme Court with its claim of federal supremacy, and the U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear the case.

      "It's time for San Diego and San Bernardino Counties to end their war on the sick and obey the law," Smith said. "And taxpayers should hold to account the irresponsible officials who wasted their tax dollars on frivolous litigation."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit


United States

Feature: The Global Marijuana Marches, Part II

Last weekend was the second act in this year's two-part Global Marijuana Marches, aimed at celebrating global cannabis culture and pushing marijuana law reform. Last week, we focused primarily on North America; this week, we look a little further abroad.
Porto Alegre march, Brazil, Parque da Redenção
According to organizers, marches took place in some 263 cities worldwide -- from Amsterdam, Abbotsford (BC), and Auckland to Wichita, Wellington, and Zagreb. Marches took place on every inhabited continent, with turnouts ranging from a few dozen to more than a hundred thousand. Few problems were reported.

The single largest event took place in Rome, where organizers estimated the crowd gathered at the Plaza San Giovanni at somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. In Rome, marchers demanded repeal of Italy's L.49 drug law, which they complained is "the toughest in the West."

"What we want is the cancellation of L.49, the end of arrests and increasing persecution against users and self-growers, the right to relief for patients, the end of 1930-style terrorist campaign on media against all scientific evidence, and the official revaluation of the multiple properties of this ancient plant," said Rome event organizer Alberto Sciolari.

Police and the media downplayed the numbers, Sciolari said, but the event was huge. "The plaza was completely full, and there were still thousands of people trying to get in," he reported. "The trade unions held their May Day concert there last weekend, and the TV talked about 'almost one million people' being there then, and our crowd was only slightly smaller."

Rome has emerged as the monster of the Global Marijuana Marches, drawing about 35,000 in 2007 and doubling that to 70,000 last year, before exploding this year. That's no surprise, said Sciolari. "Every year there is a sharp increase in participants, probably because it is a regular event, and people learned to wait for it much in advance, and tell friends, without much need of promotion. The date is fixed year after year, and then you just have to confirm that still it will take place despite all, and people are happy to show up," he said.
Athens GMM poster
One reason for the huge crowds in Rome could be anti-government sentiment and rejection of the conservative values and policies of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "This wasn't specifically anti-Berlusconi, but against the 'culture' he and his government spread and support," Sciolari noted. "The people mocked and laughed at them rather than taking their positions seriously. Although we are seeing repression and security campaigns in Italy that are passing any limit, pot lovers and patients know that, Berlusconi or not, no government will give anything for free."

"It's always large in Rome," said Joep Oomen, coordinator of ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies. "It is like it is a yearly event for the whole nation, although some people say most go for the party than for anything else."

Things weren't nearly as active in Oomen's home city of Antwerp, where he reported some 50 people showing up, or even in Amsterdam, where the crowd was estimated at somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people. Part of that could be due to complacency in countries with relatively lax drug laws, Oomen said.

"People don't realize they can still lose their freedom until it is too late," he said. "But once they do understand how important it is to get it legalized, they are supposed to become more active in the movement. These marches can act as eye-openers for new generations."

In Berlin, organizers doing their first Global Marijuana March pulled in several hundred demonstrators, with the crowd swelling to more than a thousand by the time it reached its final destination, a reggae club, where the party continued into the night. Although organizer Mathias Meyer hinted at disappointment with the crowd size, he is going to do it again next year.

"The march was quite nice," he reported. "The police were very calm and liberal. One cop jokingly asked us where we hid the stash, but then smiled and walked on. We think it was quite good for our first strike."
Hungary GMM poster
Vienna saw about 2,000 people show up, as did Prague, while some 5,000 marched in Madrid. Other European marches typically pulled in dozens or hundreds -- except for Greece.

Athens, radicalized by weeks of street fighting a few months back, was the scene of one of the larger European marches, with more than 15,000 people showing up for the "protestival" organized by Iliosporoi, the InfoAction Youth Network on Political and Social Ecology.

"It was more than good -- it was a perfect moment of our life," reported an unnamed Iliosporio activist. "Thousands of people came Saturday to demonstrate with their smiles and their happiness that the laws and the state politics about drugs have to change," he said. "The so-called war on drugs -- designed from the USA and imposed on almost all governments of the world -- has had much worse effects on our societies than that other classic failure of the USA, the amazing idea to make alcohol illegal," he said.

"We legalized marijuana in Athens this weekend," he continued. "This festival celebrated personal and social autonomy and the liberation of public space. All of us legalized marijuana without expecting the laws to change."

Brazil was also the scene of Global Marijuana Marches, with six cities participating in the Brazilian marches. On March 3, nearly 500 people marched in Florianópolis and 1,500 in Recife. Last weekend saw 2,000 people, including the Brazilian environment minister, marching in Rio de Janeiro, 250 in Belo Horizonte, and 500 in Porto Alegre.

Brazilian marchers in some cities faced threats from authorities to prosecute them for "apology for crime," as they had done in past years. Rafael, a Porto Alegre activist with Active Principle, reported that marchers there won an injunction from a local judge protecting their right to express their viewpoints. But that wasn't the case in eight other Brazilian cities, where marches were cancelled as appeals of bans work their way through the courts.

"For many years, ministries have banned local marches, accusing people of being involved in the drug traffic or 'being anonymous,'" Rafael explained. "Last year, of 15 cities, only four marched because of the bans, but none of those cases were actually tried because the marches had already passed, which suggests the ministries were only trying to ban the marches. This year, we will bring those cases, because we know they're going to lose. Our constitutional right to discuss drug policies outweighs any 'apology for crime,'" he said.

In Rio, Environment Minister Carlos Minc spoke to the crowd, advocating in favor of the legalization movement. Although he said he came as a private citizen, he added that he had always attended the marches and wouldn't stop just because he was a minister.

Another May, another round of Global Marijuana Marches. With even the US seeing the first signs of support for legalization reaching the 50% mark, maybe soon marchers will have something big to celebrate.

Canada: Veterans Affairs to Cover Medical Marijuana Expenses

Canadian military veterans who use marijuana for medicinal reasons under Canada's Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) will now have those expenses covered by Veterans Affairs Canada, according to a letter quietly delivered to a Comox, British Columbia, vet. Previously, the agency had refused to pay medical marijuana expenses for veterans, although it covers prescription drug expenses.
Canadian medical marijuana demonstration (
The agency has made no public announcement of the policy shift, but Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson described it in the letter, which was sent to the vet, Bruce Webb. Webb had been obtaining medical marijuana through Health Canada in accordance with the MMAR, but was cut off because he could not afford to pay for it.

"As a disability pensioner, you are only entitled to coverage of prescription drugs listed on Veterans Affairs Canada's formularies," Thompson wrote. "However, the Department may consider covering medications that are not on the list if an exceptional need for the product is demonstrated. It may be of interest to know that the Department made changes to its policy with respect to the provision of medical marijuana, and may now cover the costs of this product for clients who have qualified under the MMAR, administered by Health Canada. In order to qualify for coverage of this non-listed product, a client must be approved by Health Canada, to possess and use marihuana for medical purposes; the product must be obtained from Health Canada in accordance with its requirements; and the client must have obtained pre-authorization from Veterans Affairs Canada."

Webb responded with effusive thanks, saying: "It is a medication, it is a proved medication, it's grown by the government of Canada, for the people of Canada, at taxpayers' expense. All veterans, anyone that needs this stuff should have a right to do it. This man is a compassionate member of parliament. Mr. Thompson, thank you."

The policy shift also won praise from the medical marijuana advocacy group Canadians for Safe Access, which had previously called on Health Canada to deal with the issue of patients who cannot afford their marijuana medications. "For many, this medicine is more effective than the available alternatives, with fewer negative side-effects. It is so important that the cost for this medicine is covered for those in need," said Rielle Capler, the group's director. "Veterans use cannabis for various medical conditions and symptoms including chronic and phantom limb pain, sleep disturbance, brain injuries, Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression," she added.

While the Veterans Ministry move is to be lauded, Health Canada and the MMAR still have their problems. Only about 3,000 of the estimated 400,000 people who use medical marijuana in Canada are licensed through Health Canada, and only a small fraction of them obtain their marijuana from Health Canada. Patients and advocates have long complained that Health Canada's sole-source monopoly marijuana is of low quality.

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