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Ottawa Will Grow, Supply Pot For Use By The Sick

Ottawa Will Grow, Supply Pot For Use By The Sick: Rock

Health Canada Will Select Official Supplier Soon

Allan Rock, the federal Minister of Health, says, "The day may come when marijuana is available on pharmacists' shelves."

OTTAWA - A government-controlled supply of marijuana will be grown and federal regulations governing medicinal use will be made into law within a year, according to Allan Rock, the Minister of Health.

"The day may come when marijuana is available on pharmacists' shelves," predicted Mr. Rock in an interview.

Health Canada will select an official marijuana supplier over the next month or two and the supply will be available depending on "how long after that it will take them to produce the first crop, dry it, cut it, and [laughs] ... roll it," he said.

While the department develops its supply, Mr. Rock has appealed to police to "use discretion" when dealing with people who supply marijuana to medical users.

Mr. Rock is also eager for a Cabinet discussion decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, he said.

But the debate must be launched by Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice.

"There's no doubt that it's something she and I should talk about. And Cabinet would probably want to be involved in the decision. But we look to the Minister of Justice to take the lead in relation to the question of whether any offence should be added to the Contraventions Act," said Mr. Rock.

"I'd be happy to participate fully in a vigorous Cabinet discussion on that issue -- whenever she brings that to the table," he said.

The Contraventions Act is a federal statute that lists provincial and federal offences that are dealt with by tickets and fines, rather than criminal charges.

"Think of the difference between being charged with speeding, or being charged with dangerous driving," said Mr. Rock.

"The issue is should the possession of small amounts of marijuana be subject to a ticketable offence rather than criminal charges?

"We're watching an evolution here from complete prohibition," he said. "Maybe someday [recreational users] will be given a ticket."

A spokeswoman for Ms. McLellan has said the Justice Minister considers marijuana policy to be a matter of health policy.

"Having served for four years as the Attorney-General of Canada, I can tell you that is an issue for the Attorney-General of Canada and the Minister of Justice," said Mr. Rock.

To date, Mr. Rock has granted 72 exemptions to patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, and other conditions doctors believe can be helped by the drug.

But the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that without formal rules, the process is too arbitrary, secretive, and allows Mr. Rock too much discretion.

"What the court said to us is we shouldn't innovate. We shouldn't just play it by ear ... Carve it into law so everybody knows where they stand," he said.

"At this time next year, there will be a set of regulations on the shelf that will spell out who is allowed to apply for medical marijuana, how the application is made, what the requirements are, what the criteria are that the minister must take into account in deciding, how and within what period of time the minister will communicate a decision," he said.

"And within a year, if you are granted an exemption for medical marijuana, you will be able to collect it from Health Canada. It will be clear, consistent quality," Mr. Rock said.

"And by this time next year, clinical trials will be within full swing and we will be accumulating scientific evidence about the comparative medical implications of smoking marijuana for the alleviation of symptoms in the alleviation of chronic and other diseases."

Mr. Rock said that no patient whose application showed they could benefit from marijuana has been rejected.

"Not so much rejected, but some people's applications were not complete. We had a lot of one-page letters from people saying, 'Please send me dope.' Those did not make the cut," he said.

"Will the day ever come when it's available on pharmacists' shelves?" asked Mr. Rock. "Marinol, a pill form of THC, is already available on druggists' shelves. So the day may come," he said.

"I think these are all mechanical consequences that follow from a basic decision: Are you going to let someone in pain have access to a drug they think will alleviate it?" he asked. "Yes, we've decided that."

"There was never a good answer as to why it wasn't medically available," added Mr. Rock.

"My mother was on morphine for a month before she died, and yet morphine is considered a prohibited drug. It's criminalized, people traffic in it and go to jail, and yet the doctor prescribed it and we had it in the room. She died at home, and we had it in the house."

National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NZ Inc.

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