Marijuana Decriminalization Roils a Doctors Association

Canadian Regulations Are First of Their Kind

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OTTAWA, JULY 31, 2001 ( A Canadian doctors group is fearful about new regulations that allow people suffering from terminal illness and chronic painful conditions to smoke marijuana legally.

The new rules, the first of their kind in the world, have been adopted by the Canadian Ministry of Health, unleashing a nationwide debate.

Until now, any patient who wished to smoke marijuana to alleviate pain had to get special permission from the Health Minister. About 300 people were granted this permission.

Under the new rules, any patient suffering from a terminal disease, whose life expectancy is less than a year, will be able to obtain marijuana by presenting a medical certificate.

«We are still disappointed that the fundamental medical issues of quality, efficacy and patient safety have been ignored,» the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) said in a statement.

«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 pre-market testing,» the statement said.

The CMA said it feared patients might try to ask for marijuana to combat the symptoms of any condition, or pressure their doctors to give them marijuana for recreational purposes.

People eligible to use marijuana include those suffering acute pain from diseases like multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS and epilepsy, as well as serious cases of arthritis and spinal cord problems.

Eligible patients will be able to cultivate marijuana directly or designate someone to do it for them. The government itself has begun to cultivate this plant. The first harvest will be next year, and will be made available to these types of patients.

The Canadian measure contrasts with the situation in the United States, where the Supreme Court decided recently that cannabis clubs may not distribute marijuana as a «medical necessity» for seriously ill patients.

The U.S. Justice Department cast doubts on the usefulness of medical treatment with marijuana, and upheld the prohibition on the intoxicating herb.

As was the case in Canada, some people in the United States are allowed to smoke marijuana for medical reasons, but under the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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