Nearly a third of legal marijuana users reject government pot

April 28, 2004

Dennis Bueckert, CNEWS

OTTAWA (CP) - Nearly a third of the patients who got marijuana through Health Canada's medical access program have returned the product, says an activist who sees that as proof that federal pot isn't worth smoking.

'High school students in a cupboard could grow a product that is better and safer than what we're getting,' said Philippe Lucas, who obtained the figures through the federal access to information law.

'I think it's much weaker than the government claims. I'd really suggest their testing is off.'

Lucas, director of Canadians for Safe Access, said tests commissioned by his pro-pot lobby group have found the federal product contains only 5.1 per cent THC rather than the 10.2 per cent claimed by Health Canada. It doesn't even look appealing, he added.

'Visibly, it's horrible. There's visible stock and stem and it's ground far too fine to actually roll so you're forced to use it in a pipe and when you do it burns very black with dark, acrid ash.

'They know it's no good, and they send it out to people who aren't just suffering from minor aches and pains but in some cases have AIDS and cancer.'

Health Canada spokeswoman Catherine Saunders said 29 out of 92 approved users either returned their pot or cancelled their orders, but she did not know the reasons.

In two cases, doctors refused to take shipments at their offices, she said. The rules have been changed to allow shipment directly to patients.

Saunders insisted that the marijuana is as potent as claimed.

'It's tested, it's research grade, it's fully characterized and it's documented according to good manufacturing practices guidelines.'

She said the THC content is 10 per cent plus or minus 1.5 per cent. That's comparable to black market pot which averages 10 per cent, she said.

The government marijuana is grown for the government by Prairie Plant Systems of Saskatoon in an abandoned mine at Flin Flon, Man.

Lucas said the marijuana is so widely reviled that Prairie Plant Systems includes a return form with every order.

'Having smoked it myself, I think they're having a lot of problems with the way they're treating it post-cultivation. That's why this product is burning black and barely burning at all, frankly.'

Given that Prairie Plant System is in the fourth year of a $5.5-million, five-year contract, and has shipped 279 ounces of pot, he estimates that each ounce costs the government $16,000.

'Absolutely outrageous,' said Lucas. 'Black market cannabis currently goes for $150 to $200 an ounce. That's for triple A (top quality).

'As a medical marijuana user I'm absolutely shocked, bowled over and offended by what's going on at Health Canada. But as a Canadian taxpayer I'm even more bothered.'

Saunders said Health Canada does not calculate the cost of its medical marijuana program on a per-ounce basis.

She said the benefits of the program for patients who are seriously ill, and for researchers, are much broader than can be broken down by ounce of product.

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