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IACM-Bulletin of 20 July 2003

Canada: Government forced to provide cannabis to patients

On 9 July 2003 the Canadian government announced an interim plan that will provide cannabis on a regular basis to 582 people who are authorized by the government to use the drug for medical reasons.

Thousands of Canadians already visit so-called "compassion clubs", which distribute cannabis to those who come with a note from a doctor saying that the drug can help their condition. The police have occasionally entered some of the clubs and seized the drug, but for the most part they function in the open and are tolerated.

The decision to allow the government to provide marijuana to people suffering from severe illness was forced by a ruling in January by the Ontario Superior Court that federal marijuana access regulations were unconstitutional because they did not provide patients with a legal distribution system. The government is appealing the ruling, and Health Minister Anne McLellan, a skeptic of medical marijuana use, has indicated the distribution will end if her department wins its appeal.

1,650 baggies of marijuana are already packed and ready for sale. The government says it intends to distribute the drug through doctors, but the Canadian Medical Association has strongly advised doctors not to participate, saying doctors may face violence or break-ins by people looking for cannabis.

Patients will be able to buy dried marijuana for 5 Canadian dollars (3.70 US dollars, 3.20 EURos) a gram, about half the street price, or a pack of 30 seeds for 20 Canadian dollars so they can grow their own plants. Cindy Cripps-Prawak, director of the Office of Medical Access, said the cannabis has a THC content of 10 per cent.

Mrs. Cripps-Prawak left her job on 11 July. Before Dr. Greg Robinson, who is also an AIDS patient, resigned from Health Canada's advisory committee saying it is clear to him now, that Health Minister Anne McLellan does not want to provide cannabis to those who need it.

(Sources: New York Times of 10 July 2003, Reuters of 10 July 2003, Associated Press of 10 July 2003, Canadian Press of 16 July 2003)

USA: Appeal before Supreme Court: Federal government wants to punish doctors who recommend cannabis

The Bush administration has asked the Supreme Court to let federal authorities punish doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients. The government would like to revoke the federal prescription licenses of doctors who tell their patients cannabis would help them.

On 7 July Justice Department lawyers asked the high court to take up the issue in its next term, which begins in October. The Bush administration, which has taken a hard stand against state medical marijuana laws, asked the high court to strike down a Californian appeals court ruling that said the proposed penalties would violate the freedom of speech of both doctors and patients.

The its decision of October 2002 the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco "effectively licensed physicians to treat patients with prohibited substances" and interfered with the government's authority "to enforce the law in an area vital to the public health and safety," Justice Department lawyers Mark Stern and Colette Matzzie wrote.

The appeal "is a sign that this administration will do everything they can to defeat the will of the voters of California and many other states," said Graham Boyd, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer.

(Sources: San Francisco Chronicle of 11 July 2003, Associated Press of 11 July 2003)

News in brief

UK: 86 per cent support medical use
According to e recent poll by the Economic & Social Research Council (ECRS) 41 per cent of Britons now support legalisation of cannabis - up from just 12 per cent in 1983. Most people (86 per cent) support allowing cannabis to be prescribed by doctors for medical purposes. The opinions of some 1,000 people in England and Wales and 1,600 in Scotland were surveyed. (Source: ESRC press release of 15 July 2003)

Science: CBD is neuroprotective
The potential activity of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis, in preventing damage caused by cerebral ischemia, a reduced supply of blood or oxygen to the brain, was studied by a group of Italian reseachers from the University of Milan in gerbils. Different amounts of CBD were given 5 minutes after blood flow to the brain was interrupted for 10 minutes. In the following days the CBD treated did much better than the untreated and there was no death of certain nerve cells. The neuroprotective effect was greatest with 5 mg/kg. Authors conclude: "These findings suggest a potential therapeutic role of cannabidiol in cerebral ischemia, though the clear mechanism of action remains to be elucidated." (Source: Braida D, et al. Neurosci Lett. 2003 Jul 31;346(1-2):61-4.)

USA: Scott Imler
The head of a medical marijuana dispensary pleaded guilty on 15 July of distributing cannabis. Scott Imler, president of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison but is expected to receive less time. U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz scheduled Imler's sentencing for 24 November. Federal agents raided the dispensary in October 2001, seizing computers, financial documents, 400 marijuana plants, and medical records of some 3,000 current and former patients. (Source: Associated Press of 16 July 2003)

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