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Pot supplier disputes quality complaint from health minister

By Hempology | May 16, 2002


Thursday, May 16, 2002

By Janice Tibbetts (Southham Newspapers)

OTTAWA – The company that’s growing Canada’s official marijuana supply says the weed has turned out to be too potent.

The marijuana is not bad – the problem is that it’s too good, Prairie Plant Systems said in a letter Wednesday to Health Minister Anne McLellan.

Company president Brent Zettl is mad about the company’s “damaged reputation” arising from McLellan’s revelations that the project to give pot to sick Canadians is delayed because the supply is impure. That sparked news reports of bad weed.

“Prairie Plant has respected the Health Canada request to not speak to the media regarding this project,” wrote Zettl.

“We request that Health Canada respond to these false reports in order to maintain the integrity of the project and begin repairing the damage these negative reports have created,” he wrote.

McLellan said last week that the distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes is behind schedule because the first crop of nearly 2,000 plants contains 185 different kinds of pot.

The seeds came from marijuana seized by police after the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the U.S. refused to share the seeds it cultivates for scientific research.

“As you are aware, this project has been fraught with many unforeseen logisitical issues,” wrote Zettl.

“Most interestingly, virtually all the straints we have tested appear to be better in quality than the U.S. NIDA material. In most cases, the strains under development have significantly higher cannabinoids levels.”

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the most critical chemical in marijuana) is commonly two times greater in concentration than the U.S. stuff, Zettl said.

The government gave a $5.7-million contract to Prairie Plant Systems to grow the marijuana at an underground mine in Flin Flon, Man.

In his letter, Zettl asked for the contract to be amended so that Health Canada can receive the stronger-than-expected pot.

Andrew Swift, a spokesman for Health Canada, said that the department wants to test the stronger marijuana before deciding whether it will change the contract to buy more potent pot.

The current contract calls for THC levels of 5-6 percent, he said. Zettle says a concentration of 9.5-11 per cent would be “more appropriate for clinical research material.” He could not be reached for comment.

The government is now having its pot tested to find the best strain so that a quality, standardized seed can be used for the second crop of plants.

McLellan has said the government has an obligation to ensure that the marijuana it provides people is of a consistent quality – in part because the pot would be given out as part of clinical trials to determine whether anecdotal claims are true about the medicinal benfits.

Without a standardized crop, she said, researchers monitoring the sick patients would have no way of knowing whether the marijuana is having the desired effects.

Until then, sick Canadians who were approved to smoke marijuana and were counting on the official supply will have to wait.

New regulations came into effect last summer that allow certain patients with chronic or terminal illnesses to apply to Health Canada for permission to use marijuana.

The approval applies to patients who have less than a year to live; those suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, severe arthritis or epilepsy; and to patients suffering from other conditions, if marijuana is recommended by two specialists.

Those who qualify can grow marijuana on their own, have another approved grower do it for them, or get the weed from the government.

As of last month, the government had given permission to 205 sick Canadians to smoke marijuana.

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