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by Karine Koo

Health Canada is the official dealer of medical pot, but customers say the quality is poor and they're sending it back.

Almost 30 per cent of legal medical pot users have returned the government's product according to Health Canada statistics.


Health Canada has been selling medical marijuana for over a year, but the word on the street is to keep off the government grass.

"It's crap...if they smoke the stuff that the government's putting out, they're going to do more harm than good to the body," said Pete, who chose not to reveal his last name, founder of the London Compassion Wellness Center, or LCWC.

 

Alison Myrden,
MS sufferer and activist
shows her MMAR card.
Courtesy CNEWS

 

Medical marijuana has been available from Health Canada since July 2003. 

 

Under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, people who suffer from terminal or chronic illnesses can apply to get legal access to government pot.  The federal governement directly couriers dried marijuana or seeds to MMAR cardholders.

 

According to Health Canada statistics, 29 of the 93 legal medical marijuana customers have either returned the product or cancelled their orders due to its poor quality.

 

"It's sub-standard to say the least...what the government has done is taken the entire plant and stuck it in a blender and then put it in baggies and delivered it to your home," said Rob, 43, who chose not to reveal his last name, one of the directors of the LCWC.                  

 

Underground Flin Flon marijuana crop in full bud.
Courtesy Prairie Plant Systems

 

Legal pot, sometimes referred to as "dirtweed" or "mine swag," is grown in an underground mine shaft in Flin Flon, Manitoba by Prairie Plant Systems.

 

The final product is a fine powdery substance that costs $150 plus GST for a 30-gram bag.  Privately grown and sold marijuana costs between $6-25 per gram.

 

"The price is very good but the quality is poor...the powdery substance tends to not be very good for rolling a joint because it doesn't burn properly... it just falls apart," said Rob.

 

 

Marijuana at Your Local Drugstore

 

"We're already a target...you'd be looking at pharmacies that are more secure than banks." 
-Scott Coulter

 

 

In March 2004, Health Canada announced plans to make government marijuana available in pharmacies.

 

Officials have launched a pilot project in British Columbia that would permit medical users to buy legal pot at their local drugstore.

 

This policy would make Canada the second country after the Netherlands to allow the sale of medical marijuana in pharmacies.

 

The policy has not yet been implemented, but some local pharmacies feel that another drug on their shelves will make them vulnerable to more theft.

 

“We’re already a target, but you put another product into our hands…that makes us a bigger target… you’d be looking at pharmacies that are more secure than banks,” said Scott Coulter, 34, a pharmacist at Coulter’s Guardian Pharmacy.

 

Coulter says the push to dispense medical marijuana in local pharmacies stems from the inability of Health Canada to create a quality product.

 

“I’m aware that the quality of what Health Canada is providing is not very good and that’s what’s created this issue in the first place.  If they were providing a pharmaceutical grade product there would not be an issue,” said Coulter.

 

Health Canada has proposed to end private cultivation of marijuana by 2007, leaving medical marijuana users no option but to buy government pot or get it off the black market.

 

For now, medical pot users are spurning the government's stash and turning to compassion clubs as their source of medical marijuana.

 

 

Compassion Clubs

 

"I was getting phone calls from doctors who were saying we were godsends." 
Pete, LCWC

 

  London Cannabis
Compassion Center

 

Compassion clubs are the source of medical marijuana for some 8,000 Canadians who use the drug to treat terminal or chronic illnesses.

 

 “We step in between the black market and the medical user… we get the cannabis grown or we purchase the cannabis for them,” said Pete, founder of the London Compassion Wellness Center.

 

 

Pete, who is in his thirties, started the compassion center in 1995 when it was called the London Cannabis
   Lynn Harichy, activist and
   MS sufferer at her arrest.
   Courtesy: cannabisculture
Compassion Center.

 

In 1998, he partnered with Lynn Harichy, a London activist and multiple sclerosis
sufferer, to fight for legal
access to medical marijuana.  Lynn Harichy died on December 25, 2003.

 

Today, the LCWC has approximately 300 members and the community response has been phenomenal, said Pete.

 

“I was getting phone calls from doctors who were saying we were godsends,” said Pete.

 

 

Are Doctors supportive of Medical Pot?

 

"The lack of support by physicians is due in part to the stigma attached to the drug."
-Dr. Michael Rieder
 

 

 

Medical marijuana is still not widely supported by physicians and finding a MD who prescribes medical pot is difficult.

 

 

 

“I think that the average family practitioner doesn’t have the expertise to prescribe it.  There are some doctors who are supportive but they’re few and far between,” said Dr. Michael Rieder, Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Pharmacology and Pediatrics, and Chair of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at The University of Western Ontario.

 

 

 Number of Physicians per Province in relation to
              Authorizations to Possessunder the
        Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR)

Province

Total Authorizations to Possess

Total Physicians who Support Current Authorization to Possess

Alberta

73

25

British Columbia

144

77

Manitoba

17

11

New Brunswick

10

10

Newfoundland and Labrador

9

7

Nova Scotia

53

22

Ontario

296

133

Québec

68

45

Saskatchewan

19

5

Yukon Territory, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and Northwest Territories

6

5

TOTAL

695

340            

* Physicians are only counted once if they supported more than one application
Courtesy: Health Canada

 

 

The lack of support by physicians is due in part to the stigma attached to the drug as well as to the perception that the medical marijuana policy was developed by Health Canada with very little input from physicians.

 

“The medical marijuana policy…didn’t evolve from bunch of practitioners, so it’s seen as top-down,” said Dr. Rieder.

 

The smoked form of medical marijuana also makes physicians uncomfortable with prescribing the drug.

 

 

 

Therapeutic Effects of Medical Pot

 

"Cannabis won't heal anything, but it does make the blind see." 
-Pete, LCWC
 

Rob, 43, is HIV positive and smokes medical pot to alleviate the pain associated with his illness.

 

"I need it as an appetite stimulant, a relaxant and for nausea control," he said.

 

As director of the London Compassion Wellness Center, Rob sees the therapeutic effects of marijuana on many of his clients.

 

 

 

 "I have clients who have fibromyalgia and they swear by their use of marijuana...I've seen my

clients go without and you can visibly see the difference when they don't have their marijuana," he said.

 

 

Marijuana is reported to be effective in treating cancer, AIDS/HIV muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, paraplegia/quadriplegia, epilepsy, gluacoma and intractable pain, including arthritis. 

 

 

 "Cannabis won't really heal anything, but it does make the blind see, it can cure the blind," said Pete, founder of the LCWC.
   Robert Randall smokes pot
   to treat glaucoma
   Courtesy of canomo.net

 

Marijuana is known to be particularly effective in treating the symptoms of glaucoma.  People suffering from glaucoma are considered to be legally blind and cannot drive due to the blind spots caused by the internal pressure on the optical nerve.

 

Marijuana relieves this pressure and allows the legally blind to regain their vision so that they can legally drive according to Pete.

 

While the anecdotal evidence on the the benefits of marijuana is dense, Dr. Michael Rieder emphasis the fact that the drug is not a cure for these diseases.  It is merely provides symptomatic relief.

 

"Marijuana for most of its use is for symptom control...it makes people feel better," said Dr. Rieder.

 

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Last updated December 9, 2004

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