March 24, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 91  

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B.C. pharmacies will be doling out grass

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

Pharmacies in British Columbia could soon be dealing medicinal marijuana to registered users if a Health Canada pilot project proves successful — but red tape and legal obstacles threaten to burn the deal.

“The pilot project cannot begin until after the enabling regulation comes into effect and further discussions take place with stakeholders,” said Health Canada spokesperson Aggie Adamcyzk, adding protocols for the pilot will be developed over the next several months.

“We’re at the point in time where we’re examining the range of the proposed changes to marijuana medical access regulations, with a view to improving the regulatory framework,” she explained. “Health Canada’s strategy for the medicinal marijuana program envisions moving marijuana into the traditional health centre model used for other medicinal agents in Canada.”

Robert Solomon, a Western law professor, said that if the federal government chooses to recognize a drug, then it is important to provide proper access, adding the program’s slow implementation is drowning in unnecessary legal roadblocks.
“I can’t anticipate how much red tape the government is going to attach to access — it’s so difficult to get accepted by government,” he said of the patient approval process.

Marijuana advocates cheered the Health Canada initiative, but said the overall program is still not perfect.

“They’re going in the right direction by placing it in pharmacies. My issue is with the product itself,” said Chad Cooke, a spokesperson for the Toronto Compassion Centre, a not-for-profit group that provides high potency marijuana to ill people.

Cooke said the government grass, made in Flin Flon, Manitoba, is low grade and poorly prepared, forcing registered patients exempt from standard drug legislation to look elsewhere to ease their pain.

For Ontario to ever have a similar setup, he said the framework is needed to support the program, but first the government has to change its attitude on prohibiting the illegal substance. Until then, the TCC and other groups will continue to deliver the green, Cooke said.

—with files from Dan Perry



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