First tokers of Health Canada cannabis call it disgusting, want money back

August 31, 2003

Dean Beeby, Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - Some of the first patients to smoke Health Canada's government-approved marijuana say it's "disgusting" and want their money back. "It's totally unsuitable for human consumption," said Jim Wakeford, 58, an AIDS patient in Gibsons, B.C. "It gave me a slight buzziness for about three to five minutes, and that was it. I got no other effect from it." Barrie Dalley, a 52-year-old Toronto man who uses marijuana to combat the nausea associated with AIDS, said the Health Canada dope actually made him sick to his stomach. "I threw up," Dalley said Monday. "It made me nauseous because I had to use so much of it. It was so weak in potency that I really threw up." Both men are returning their 30-gram bags, and Dalley is demanding his money back, $150 plus taxes. Wakeford is returning his unpaid bill with a letter of complaint. A third AIDS patient says he's also unhappy with the product, which is supposed to contain 10.2 per cent THC, the main active ingredient. "I'm still smoking it - I would prefer better, but it's all I've got," said Jari Dvorak, 62, in Toronto. "I think Health Canada certainly should do better with the quality." All three are among a handful of patients who have registered with Health Canada to buy dope directly from the government to alleviate their medical symptoms. The department was compelled to begin direct distribution in July, following an Ontario court order earlier this year that said needy patients should not be forced to get their cannabis on the streets or from authorized growers, who themselves obtain seeds or cuttings illegally. The marijuana is being grown for Health Canada deep underground, in a vacant mine section in Flin Flon, Man., by Prairie Plant Systems on a $5.75-million contract. The department originally intended that the product go first to accredited researchers to demonstrate whether or not cannabis is medically effective. Health Minister Anne McLellan has said she opposes the direct distribution of government cannabis to patients and that the program will end if the department wins its appeal of the Ontario court decision. The government dope also came under fire Monday from Canadians for Safe Access, a patients' rights group that is pressing for supplies of safe, effective marijuana. Laboratory tests indicate the Health Canada product has only about three per cent THC - not the 10.2 per cent advertised - and contains contaminants such as lead and arsenic, said spokesman Philippe Lucas of Vicoria. "This particular product wouldn't hold a candle to street level cannabis," he said in an interview. But Lucas declined to identify the three labs that did the testing, other than to indicate they're in Vancouver, saying he fears the facilities might suffer repercussions from Health Canada because they were not authorized to possess the cannabis. He also would not say how the group obtained the sample of government dope. Lucas, who smokes marijuana to cope with his hepatitis C infection, said the lab results also showed that the cannabis provided at a Victoria compassion club for patients registers at more than 12 per cent and is freer from contaminants. He said the government cannabis was too finely ground up with stems and leaves, calling it "shwag" or "bunk," street terminology for the lowest grade of marijuana. "It's high time for Minister McLellan to acknowledge Health Canada's total failure and ineptitude in its handling of therapuetic cannabis research, distribution and cultivation," Lucas said in a statement. Health Canada spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

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