Health Minister Allan Rock and Health Canada were busy patting themselves on the back over the new medical marijuana regulations they announced this week, but neither patients nor doctors pronounced themselves satisfied -- for widely differing reasons. Responding to a court case brought by medical marijuana patient Terry Parker, Health Canada approved a new, less restrictive medical marijuana regime to go into effect on July 30.
"Today's announcement is a landmark in our ongoing effort to give Canadians suffering from grave and debilitating illnesses access to marijuana for medical purposes," said Minister Rock. "This compassionate measure will improve the quality of life of sick Canadians, particularly those who are terminally ill."
It will also prevent the Ontario Supreme Court from throwing out all of Canada's marijuana laws, as it threatened to do if the government failed to revamp its medical marijuana program before the end of this month.
Under the new regulations, patients in three categories may apply to Health Canada for a permit to possess marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Category 1 is terminally ill patients, Category 2 lists specified diseases or conditions (MS, spinal cord injuries or diseases, cancer, AIDS, severe arthritis pain), and Category 3 is a catch-all category for other, unspecified medical conditions for which traditional treatments have proven ineffective.
The patient application must be accompanied by a doctor's "medical declaration" indicating the condition or symptom for which the drug is to be used. Category 3 patients will need the approval of two doctors. Patients are allowed to grow their own, designate a grower, or obtain it from a supplier licensed by Health Canada -- although it hasn't yet gotten around to licensing any suppliers. Designated or caretaker growers would also have to obtain a license from Health Canada.
But in a rather embarrassing glitch, the new regulations do not provide for patients to obtain seeds or clones with which to start plants. "Right now, so far as I'm aware, there is no legal source of seeds," conceded Judy Gomber, director general of Health Canada's office of controlled substances.
That may technically be the case, but Vancouver marijuana seed millionaire Marc Emery couldn't believe his eyes. "Why don't they just get them from me?" he asked the Toronto Sun. "I'm the most well-known seed seller in the world and I'm right here in Vancouver and they can talk to me any time they want. I couldn't believe it, I was just shocked when I saw it," he said. "I have 450 varieties they can choose from."
Health Canada is instead involved in negotiations with the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which operates the US government's marijuana farm in Oxford, Mississippi. Canadian press reports have said that NIDA has been reluctant to clear seed exports.
That's just fine with Cannabis Culture magazine editor Dana Larsen. "This stuff produced at the University of Mississippi is the crappiest, swaggiest pot I've seen in my life," he told the Sun. "If they're going to be using that to give to medical patients in Canada, that's even more of a travesty than we have right now. The pot the US government grows, I wouldn't buy it off the street," sneered Larsen.
"Trying to find someone who can provide an illegal product legally is very difficult," Larsen pointed out, "so it just shows the hypocrisy of the efforts they're trying to make."
Neither was the patient whose case caused the new regulations overly excited. "I'm not happy until it's legalized," Terry Parker told the Sun. "It's absurd that we have to get special permission from a doctor for marijuana. Why don't they apply the same regulations to alcohol and tobacco, considering they're more harmful?"
The Canadian Medical Association shared Parker's lack of enthusiasm, albeit for different reasons. In a press release the same day Minister Rock made his announcement, the CMA wrote that it "cannot support the regulations at this time and believes most physicians will be reluctant to participate in this process."
In the statement, Dr. Hugh Scully, past president of the Canadian Medical Association, complained of the potential dangers to physicians and the lack of knowledge about marijuana's medical efficacy. "We recognize that a regulatory scheme for the medicinal use of marijuana must exist," said Scully. "These regulations are placing Canadian physicians and their patients in the precarious position of attempting to access a product that has not gone through the normal protocols of rigorous pre-market testing," he said.
"There remains a lack of comprehensive and credible scientific evidence on the benefits of medical marijuana, the known and unknown effects of its use when smoked and the implications of an unregulated supply on the quality, consistency and contamination of the drug," Scully elaborated. He also mentioned physicians' fears that recreational users will attempt to get doctors' approval and that physicians could be liable for unforeseeable drug interaction problems or patients who drive after using medicinal marijuana.
Canada has avoided the collapse of its marijuana laws, but in the process of crafting new regulations, Health Canada has made few friends.
Visit http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/news.htm#marijuana for Minister Rock's press release, an explanation of the process and the rules themselves.