Canada's Medical Pot Not Up To Snuff

April 02, 2004

Donald McArthur, Windsor Star, Canada

Unless the government learns to grow better dope, a proposal to distribute Health Canada marijuana in pharmacies will go up in smoke, say local medical marijuana advocates. 'They have to improve their product or this project isn't going to go anywhere at all,' said Fred Pritchard of Windsor's marijuana compassion club. 'I can't believe the government pushes this garbage on sick people. We're going to make them sicker.'

A 43-year-old Windsor woman authorized to smoke pot for medical reasons said she became sick after trying the Health Canada weed last fall and sent it back to the government in disgust.

'I had anxiety so bad and I had nausea so bad and I was crying,' said the woman, who asked not to be identified. 'I'd been waiting so long and it was just such a big letdown. It's not fit for human consumption.'

The federal government gave Prairie Plant Systems Inc. a five-year $5.7 million contract in December 2000 to grow marijuana in a former copper mine in Flin Flon, Man. The product has been blasted as inferior 'schwag' and vilified for giving users nausea and headaches.

The physical difference between the government grass and marijuana Pritchard supplies to patients permitted to indulge for medical reasons couldn't be more marked.

The Flin Flon marijuana, distributed to patients in 30-gram bags for $150, comes in a 'shake' or powder form, with brown flakes and what appear to be ground up stems. It is light-green in colour, resembles oregano or catnip, and has no discernible smell.

'It tastes like lumber,' Pritchard said. 'I don't know how anybody is going to get any relief from this.'

Pritchard's marijuana consists of rich, moist, green buds and has an overpowering, sickly sweet smell. It is flecked with resin exuding glandular trichomes ? the hairs or crystals used to make hashish.

Health Canada maintains its marijuana has a THC content of 10 per cent, on par with the average THC content of street marijuana seized by police. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive substance in marijuana that makes users feel high or stoned.

Pritchard doubts the 10 per cent figure, but hasn't conducted any tests.

Health Canada spokeswoman Catherine Saunders acknowledged the government has received significant 'feedback' from users.

'The criticism is based on personal perceptions,' she said. 'We're exploring ways of modifying the manner in which the marijuana is physically prepared.'

More than 700 Canadians are authorized to take marijuana for medical reasons but only 78 of them have been approved to receive Health Canada marijuana.

Saunders couldn't explain the lack of demand except to say 'people aren't applying.'

The government is considering a proposal that would allow those 78 patients to purchase Flin Flon marijuana in British Columbia pharmacies. If the pilot project is successful it could spread throughout the country.

ALLOWED TO HOLD

As of February, 717 Canadians, including 258 in Ontario, are allowed to possess marijuana for medical reasons. 

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