Canadian Law Legalizing Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes Goes into Effect
New regulations that allow some terminally and chronically ill Canadians to grow and smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes went into effect yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reports (Farley, Los Angeles Times, 7/31). Earlier this month, Canadian health officials drafted new regulations that altered the criminal code to allow people with "qualifying medical conditions" to obtain marijuana for medicinal purposes. The new regulations create categories of people who can possess the drug without legal penalty; those suffering from terminal illnesses with a prognosis of death "within one year" and those with "serious" medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS and cancer qualify for the program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/5). Individuals wishing to grow or obtain marijuana for such purposes must obtain a certificate from their doctor and apply for a government photo ID card allowing them to have access to the drug (Los Angeles Times, 7/31). Under present regulations, only 300 Canadians have been allowed to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes; authorities believe that "thousands" of people with various illnesses will be eligible for medicinal marijuana under the new rules (Nickerson, Boston Globe, 7/31). However, there will not be a "legal way" for such patients to buy the drug until "sometime next year," when the government begins growing the herb at a facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/5).
Advocates Happy, Doctors Displeased
"I am very glad to be living in a country that is being so progressive," Derek Thaczuk from the People With AIDS Foundation said (Ljunggren, Reuters/USA Today, 7/31). According to Reuters/Washington Times, however, Canadian physicians are "unenthusiastic" about the change, stating that it will "force them to decide whether patients should be allowed access to a substance that has no proven medicinal value" (Ljunggren, Reuters/Washington Times, 7/31). Dr. Peter Barrett, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said, "There is no good, solid research anywhere in the world to show that this is good treatment [for pain management]. Fundamental medical issues of quality, efficacy and patient safety have been ignored." The association said in a statement issued last night, "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 premarket testing" (Boston Globe, 7/31). Roger Pertwee, a "leading expert" on cannabis and a neuropharmacology professor at Aberdeen University, said that Canada's move will prompt other countries to take the issue of medical marijuana "seriously" (Reuters/USA Today, 7/31). Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock "dismisse[d]" talk that the new regulations "will lead to the decriminalization of marijuana," but Reuters/Washington Times reports that "there are signs the government is under some pressure" to do so (Reuters/Washington Times, 7/31).