Health Canada Announces Further Delays Before Patients Can Have Access To Government Pot

Federally licensed medical marijuana patients will have to wait at least several more months before receiving their first supplies of government-approved pot, according to statements made this week by Health Canada. The announcement contradicts a previous declaration made by the agency in December when a Health Canada source told the Montreal Gazette that qualified patients could expect to begin receiving medical marijuana by the first of the year.

“The longer Health Canada delays the distribution of government approved medical marijuana to the seriously ill, the longer patients will be forced to obtain their medicine on the black market and endure all the inherent risks that go with it,” said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation. “This sort of federal foot-dragging needlessly aggravates patient suffering.”

Under regulations enacted by Health Canada last July, patients who are terminally ill or suffering from symptoms associated with a serious medical condition may apply for a federal license to grow and possess up to a 30-day supply of marijuana for medical purposes. To date, Health Canada has certified 680 patients to legally possess medical pot.

In preparation for the law change, Health Canada officials signed a $5.7 million contract in December 2000 with the Saskatchewan firm Prairie Plant Systems to grow 185 kilograms of medical cannabis. Presently, more than 2,000 marijuana plants have been harvested. Nevertheless, federal officials have yet to agree on a system to distribute marijuana to those patients licensed by the government to use it. Unresolved issues include: how the marijuana will be packaged; whether it will be available in licensed pharmacies or mailed by personal courier; how Health Canada will test the marijuana for quality and safety; and whether international treaties in any way inhibit the government’s ability to legally distribute medical pot.

Andrew Swift, a spokesman for Health Canada told the Edmonton Sun on Wednesday that he expects the government-contracted pot to be available in “upcoming months,” but refused to give a more specific date. In an interview with NOW Magazine, Swift denied newspaper reports claiming that Health Canada may postpone their medical pot distribution program indefinitely because of concerns that it could run afoul of international anti-drug treaties.

Prairie Plant Systems President Brent Zettl also affirmed that it would likely be another two or three months before his company’s pot is ready for public dissemination. “Bearing in mind that nowhere else in the world has this ever been done before, international agreements about controlled substances make this a bit of an onerous task for Health Canada,” he said.

St. Pierre noted, however, that the U.S. government has been distributing medical marijuana to a limited number of patients since the mid-1970s.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751 or visit Health Canada’s Office of Medical Cannabis online at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hecs-sesc/ocma/.