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By Hempology | April 6, 2005

Within the last ten years, significant strides have been made in Canada regarding access to cannabis for medical use. Following California’s lead, Canadian medical clubs began forming around bold activists and sick people in the hope the government would realize cannabis is good medicine. From court decisions to Senate proclamations, the Canadian government continues to experience increasing pressure to authorize cannabis as an herb and medical product. Results being that the government had to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order for it to be available to chronically ill people. In 1998, after the Wakeford decision, Health Canada (HE) started granting Section 56 Exemptions from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to those who could show a medical need of cannabis. Soon more than 600 Canadians across the country were allowed to use cannabis legally as a medicine.

The year 2000 marked a change to this procedure when HE announced a new framework for medical access directed by Ontario’s Court of Appeals – Parker decision, July 31, 2000 (# 1) This new procedure was called the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) and it came into effect on July 30th, 2001. Soon thereafter, concerns (from the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs) and other court cases (ON Court of Appeals – Hitzig decision, Oct. 2003) pressured HE to make needed changes to the original MMAR. It was then amended and published in the Canadian Gazette in October 2004. (# 2) For some background info and updates about the status of medical marijuana in Canada, check out HC’s web site at To locate info on medical use, it is recommended to find the ‘search” link in the top right corner, click on it and enter ‘cannabis’ or ‘medical marijuana’ before pressing go. The results may or may not be surprising, depending on one’s experience within the world of governments, rules and regulations, laws and lawyers. In other words, it is important to keep searching their site (and many others) for educating oneself about the changing status of cannabis, here and overseas. The Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch (HECS) of Health Canada is where you will find the “Drug Strategy and Controlled Substances” program (DSCSP). This is one of five programs under the HECS and it is responsible for managing the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations. The DSCSP also plays a lead federal role in the coordination and implementation of Canada’s Drug Strategy.

(# 3) According to their web site, the DSCSP oversees four other areas that may be of interest to readers. (# 4) They are: the Office of Drug Strategy, Office of Controlled Substances, Office of Cannabis Medical Access and the Drug Analysis Service. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the Office of Cannabis Medical Access work and the medical marijuana regulations. The OCMA “coordinates the development and administration of the regulator)’ approach permitting individuals to access marijuana (cannabis) for medical purposes” and also “coordinates other HE initiatives related to marijuana, including the establishment of a reliable Canadian source of medical research-grade marijuana”. (# 5) The MMAR application process allows critically ill individuals to apply for a licence to possess and grow their own cannabis, or to authorize someone else to grow their medicine (aka Licenses to Produce). The recent MMAR amendments reduced the categories for those applying from 3 to 2 by merging the first two categories together. Category 1 is for people with a terminal illness applying as compassionate end-of-life care or for those suffering from symptoms of certain diseases or conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, spinal cord disease, cancer, AIDS/HIV infection, severe arthritis and epilepsy. Category 2 is for those suffering from serious medical conditions not listed in Category 1. An official photograph is still required and a new one may be submitted with every fifth renewal, instead of each year. The Gazette web site quoted above provides further analysis of the recent OCMA’s amendments to the MMAR. (Pis refer to #2) The amendments introduced a pilot project in BC where pharmacies will be providing medicinal cannabis from doctor’s prescriptions. A recent article verified this when Health Canada ‘expedited approval’ of a new pain relieving spray drug derived from cannabis called Sativex. The article went on to say that this product might be available, by prescription and in drug stores by the end of June 2005. (# 6) Other changes to the MMAR include the OCMA plans to phase out Licenses To Produce by the year 2007.

(# 7) This concerns those who think people should have a choice on what particular cannabis strain works best for them. Research in this area continues to endorse work already done by compassion clubs and researchers across Canada and worldwide. {# 8) Currently, there is a need to officially authorize and regulate the work of compassion clubs. The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs released a report in September 2002, addressing this need and calling on Health Canada to include compassion clubs in all areas of this ongoing work. (# 9) There is a good chance that clinical trials done cooperatively between HE and established clubs would strengthen relations and hasten a more workable MMAR system. As it stands now, compassion clubs across Canada are subject to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for providing secure locations and safe access to medicinal cannabis products (i.e. raw herb, cookies, salves or massage oils, etc.). Canadians for Safe Access (CSA), a group representing medical marijuana patients, is one of many working at providing feedback and input to the OCMA regarding these regulations. One area CSA wants addressed is the decentralization of the MMAR’s registration and approval system. Health care services in each province would oversee the application process more quickly than phone calls to Ontario every time there is a question about the application process, etc. Regarding cultivation and distribution, CSA recommends community based systems (such as compassion clubs) be set up where the growing and delivery of this medicine is handled on a non-profit basis. This would include the development of national standards for operation and licensing of these clubs along with the establishment of “guidelines for site inspections and testing of cannabis for strength and safety”.

(# 10) The ‘License to Produce’ application process is referred back to the reader for further research. The web site is an informative site for growing and distributing medicinal cannabis to authorized individuals. For those seriously considering applying to the OCMA for ‘authorization to possess’ or ‘license to produce’ medical marijuana, it is also strongly suggested to do further research. One recommendation is to visit a local compassion club for support in approaching these official procedures. There are still people critical of the MMAR as they think the amendments did not go far enough and barely addressed concerns brought up by the Canadian Senate’s Special Committee on Illegal Drugs report (# 11) and other groups such as Canadians for Safe Access. Ongoing questions include the OCMA’s procedures for handling MMAR applications (i.e. lengthy forms, timely responses to applicants and approval process) and the reality that patients are still being criminalized and many have no safe access for acquiring their medicine. The March/April 2005 edition of Cannabis Health magazine published an interview with Libbie Davies, an MP from Vancouver East, who has spoken out repeatedly on drug policy reform. Davies response to the updated MMAR was to corroborate with Pierre Claude Nolin (Chair of the Senate’s Special Committee on Illegal Drugs) on a letter sent last December 2004 to the Auditor General of Canada (Sheila Fraser) and Minister of Health (Ujjal Dosanjh).
This letter is calling for an investigation on how Health Canada and the Office of Cannabis Medical Access (OCMA) have been handling the medical marijuana program. Davies encourages people to contact their MPs and MLAs and ask questions and increase pressure on the government to be more accountable to taxpayers by supporting an Auditor General’s investigation into Health Canada’s administering of the OCMA’s management along with the policy and decision making procedures of the MMAR. Excerpts from Davies and Nolin’s letter point out that the OCMA’s “own research suggests there are over 290.000 medical users in BC alone but the OCMA has only registered 753 exemptees for the whole country in nearly 5 years of operation”. In addition, “very few research projects have been approved and those that have are not adequately moving forward or have been cancelled despite a 7.5 million, 5 year clinical research grant”. Regarding cannabis grown at the Flin Flon mine in Manitoba and overseen by the Prairie Plant System (PPS), “there are currently 83 exemptees purchasing cannabis from PPS. This equates to a cost of around $65,000 per exemptee receiving cannabis from this Health Canada facility”.

The letter goes on to say that “many exemptees have actually returned their supply as the product is deemed unusable”. (# 12) Governmental changes in the last decade regarding the use of medicinal cannabis have heralded changes many not thought possible. This could not have been done without the commitment and ongoing efforts of many people and organizations with work still needing to be done. Educational outreach, ongoing legal procedures and evolving medical support continues to grow along with the compelling evidence that prohibition is not the answer. A public health approach to drug prohibition is what Canada and the Netherlands are doing by providing a framework within their Health Ministries for legal access to medicinal cannabis. Speaking at the 2004 “Beyond Prohibition: Legal Cannabis in Canada” conference held in western Canada, Dr. Brian Emerson, a medical consultant for the Ministry of Health Services, BC. defines a ‘public health approach’ as “an approach to an issue that focuses on healthier promotion, healthier protection, and the prevention of disease, injury, disability, and premature mortality in populations”. (# 13) Promoting public health involves all sectors of society, most notably doctors and patients along with our elected representatives. Educational outreach addressing society’s misconceptions about medicinal cannabis use could result in a smoother process of the regulatory and licensing changes now in process. As research confirms the herbal qualities of medicinal cannabis more funding and clinical trials will take place. Soon after, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Protection Association will be more approving of cannabis as a medicine with results being good for all. A big step will be when a ‘Notice of Compliance with Conditions’ (# 14) is adopted which will further legitimize cannabis and two major steps could be taken from there. It is presumed doctors will be more comfortable and informed in prescribing cannabis and the cost of these medicines would be covered by Canada’s medical plans, thus making these medicines available to more people. Allowing access to medicinal cannabis in a user-friendly fashion will begin to alleviate the pain and suffering critically ill people experience daily.

Topics: CD-6th, Spring 2005 | Comments Off

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