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By Becky Somerville
Thanks to heavy governmental lobbying from London activists and politicians, medical marijuana may soon be a legal pain-reliever for Canadians suffering from terminal illness.
Health Minister Allan Rock announced Wednesday plans to start clinical trials to determine the therapeutic benefits of marijuana. The announcement was prompted by a question posed in the House of Commons by London West member of parliament, Sue Barnes.
Derek Kent, spokesperson for Rock, said while the studies have no relation to the legalization of recreational marijuana, the government wants to determine how it can help people suffering from diseases such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma.
"We need a scientific basis. At present all we have is anecdotal evidence of the effects of marijuana for medicinal purposes," Kent said. "These trials will help to find out what the effects are."
Barnes, who has been actively involved in establishing controlled substance legislation at the federal level, said she has been researching the benefits of medical marijuana for over five years.
"I'm very happy," Barnes said of the announcement. "I think this is the first step in a plan that will progress in helping Canadians with certain illnesses."
Barnes explained a number of her constituents who suffer from debilitating illnesses have found marijuana alleviates some of the symptoms. "They don't want to be treated as criminals," she said.
The clinical studies would examine how the drug should be administered and determine a safe supply which could be distributed to those patients who qualify, Barnes said.
"This isn't going to happen overnight. Certainly [Wednesday] was a threshold point," she added.
London activist Lynn Harichy, who has been petitioning the government to legalize marijuana for medicinal use for over three years, said she was delighted to hear Rock's announcement. "I think it's great. It's a good beginning."
Harichy said she needs marijuana to relieve the pain of her multiple sclerosis and reduce the symptoms of anorexia nervosa. She added being able to obtain the substance legally from government-approved sources would be much safer than having to buy it from a dealer off the street.
She attributed Rock's announcement to pressure on the government as well as increased data and awareness into the benefits of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"I think the evidence is out there and citizens want a change," Harichy said. "We still have to pressure the government to continue."
Harichy added she hopes the clinical trials will lead to the legalization of marijuana for medical use and ultimately, will dispel the stigmas and negative stereotypes attached to people who use it to ease their pain.