Government-grown medical marijuana can't meet needs of patients: lawyer

December 05, 2007

Jered Stuffco, Canadian News

TORONTO - Lawyers for Canadian users of medical marijuana who want Ottawa to ease restrictions on where they get their pot wrapped up their case Wednesday by telling a Federal Court judge that government-approved marijuana doesn't compare to higher-quality strains available on the street.

Patients ought to be able to pick their own grower, said lawyer Alan Young, who accused Ottawa of rushing into drafting a program in 2003 that ultimately forced patients to use a substandard product - a violation of their constitutional rights.

"When the dust settles, what you're left with is a government simply decreeing that this is the way you are going to get your medicine," Young said.

"Governments don't know how to grow marijuana and don't know much about marijuana because for 80 years, they've been trying to convince us that it's harmful."

But since launching its controversial medicinal marijuana program, Health Canada has significantly improved the quality of its marijuana compared with earlier batches, meaning the case against the government doesn't stand up, said Health Canada lawyer Christopher Leafloor.

The applicants in the case haven't tried the most recent batches of cannabis grown by contractor Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), which is based in Flin Flon, Man., Leafloor said.

"Our position is that you can't really take seriously their claim that the PPS product isn't good enough in terms of strength when they haven't even tried it."

Leafloor said only one applicant in the case had tried the PPS product, and that trial was several years ago.

"That was an early version."

A PPS spokesman said in an interview that users who buy from the government are assured of getting a more consistent product than they would on the street.

"The beauty of the Health Canada product is it's always the same to the client in the sense that it's always grind the same, milled the same, dried the same and has the same THC content."

Leafloor also disagreed with the assertion that the government made an eleventh-hour decision in December 2003 that restricts patients from choosing their own growers.

"There's actually been a long history here," he said, noting that the government has been dealing with the issue and taking direction from Canadian courts since July 2000.

Leafloor also said the assertion that some strains of pot are better for treatment than others is based on user preference instead of quantifiable data.

"It's not enough for patients to say 'I prefer this so you have to give it to me."'

Wednesday's hearing marked the procedural culmination of a three-and-a-half-year process which Young hopes will eventually give experienced cannabis growers the opportunity to supply products specifically tailored to the needs of medical users.

The court could issue a ruling by the spring, he added.

The case also has implications on the way the government drafts and implements official policy, said Young, who is also a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

Under the current Health Canada guidelines, users of so-called medical marijuana can either grow their own pot, have someone grow it for them or buy it from Health Canada. However, growers can only supply marijuana to one patient at a time.

Initially, the case centred upon 30 applicants who wanted to buy pot from a husband and wife who ran their own growing operation, Young said.



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