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Canada becomes first country to legalize medicinal marijuana

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WASHINGTON (BP)–The Canadian government has made it legal for terminally ill patients and those with chronic conditions to use marijuana to relieve their symptoms, making America’s neighbor to the north the first country to allow marijuana use for certain medical conditions, CNSNews.com reported July 30.

Under Canada’s new rules, which went into effect July 30, patients will be allowed to apply for licenses to grow marijuana for medicinal use or appoint someone to grow it for them.

Insiders say it is the first time for a national government to be directly involved in the production and supply of the drug for medicinal purposes.

(In May [2], the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously there is no exemption to the federal ban on marijuana distribution even for patients who claim it is medically necessary. The high court ruled against an Oakland, Calif., marijuana club that had distributed the illegal substance under a 1996 California law allowing seriously ill patients and those who primarily care for them to possess and manufacture marijuana for medical reasons with a doctor’s recommendation.)

The Canadian government has awarded a $3.5 million contract to Prairie Plant Systems to farm the marijuana in a vacated copper mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba. A Health Canada official said specially trained technicians would begin harvesting 185 kilograms of marijuana starting in August.

The government’s action is the result of a decision last year by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which said current drug laws regulating marijuana use by sick people were unconstitutional.

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The Canadian Medical Association opposes the new rule, saying there has not been enough scientific research for doctors to properly prescribe dosage. CMA officials also worried about people who might take marijuana along with other prescription drugs — combinations that may carry unknown risks.

The Canadian Medical Association also said medicinal marijuana usage should be regulated.

“There remains a lack of comprehensive and credible scientific evidence on the benefits of medical marijuana, the known and unknown effects of its use when smoked, and the implications of an unregulated supply on the quality, consistency and contamination of the drug,” CMA said in a statement in Ottawa.

The CMA statement concluded, “We acknowledge the unique requirements of those individuals suffering from a terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective. However, the CMA believes that it is premature for Health Canada to expand broadly the medicinal use of marijuana before there is adequate scientific support.”

Government officials said that commercial production and sale of marijuana and the non-medical use of it would remain illegal.

Even so, Canada’s decision has unwelcome implications, conservative groups in the United States pointed out.

Robert Maginnis, vice president for policy for the Family Research Council, said, “Giving someone marijuana for medicine is like giving them pond water when pure bottled water is available.” In other words, he said plenty of good medicine is available to treat people without resorting to marijuana.

“When you look behind all these issues, ultimately, this comes down, in my opinion, to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use,” Maginnis said.

“It’s basically a stalking horse for outright legalization. I really do see a clear agenda to legitimize for recreational use a bad substance that is highly correlated with crime. It would have an extremely high medical cost for this country,” he said.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the United States spends $1.2 billion annually incarcerating drug offenders and another $6 billion to $9 billion tracking them down and arresting them.

Keith Stroup, executive director of NORML, said he is “excited” about the Canadian move and predicted it could bode well for the end of “marijuana prohibition” in the United States.

“Most of the progressive changes that have been occurring in marijuana policy have been in Europe and our government does a pretty good job of misrepresenting what happens over there,” Stroup said.

“Because of the Canadian action, our own government leaders will no longer be able to ignore the experience because we share a common border, culture and language. Because Canada will start providing marijuana to their seriously ill patients who need it as a medicine, I think it will put a fairly short time line on how much longer the United States can refuse to provide the same level of medical help to patients in this country.”

Stroup added that if the Canadian government goes one step further and decriminalizes the recreational use of marijuana over the next year or so, “the experience they have with that is going to be totally relevant to what the United States could be doing. And I am confident it would be favorable. I am extremely excited over what is happening in Canada.”
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Burns is a senior staff writer with CNSNews.com. Used by permission. Tom Strode contributed to this article.