Medical users spurning new batch of 'stronger' Health Canada marijuana

July 11, 2004

Dean Beeby, Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Some patients are spurning a new batch of government-certified marijuana, dismissing Health Canada claims that it's a stronger, better quality smoke.

'It's no good,' Marco Renda, 45, said Monday from his home in Dundalk, Ont. 'I took two puffs and I put it out. 'It had a chemical taste to it. It didn't taste right to me and it didn't burn properly. It had no effect.' Prairie Plant Systems, which produces medical marijuana on contract for Health Canada, began shipping a second batch of its product on May 21 after getting bad reviews about the initial harvest.

Users complained the first batch last summer was too dry and powdery, and seemed far less potent than the package claim of THC content at 10.2 per cent. THC is the primary active ingredient in marijuana.

Health Canada says the new batch is 12 per cent THC, plus or minus 1.5 percentage points, has fewer leaves and twigs and more flowering tops, making it a purer smoke.

'We've listened to complaints . . . that we've received from stakeholders about the moisture content in the product and of the potency,' said Catherine Saunders, spokeswoman for Health Canada.

'Informally, I've been told . . . that the feedback (on the second batch) has been positive overall.'

But Renda, who runs a website for medical users, said that 'whoever has tried it has given me the feedback that it's not worth it.'

And a spokesman for Canadians for Safe Access, a Victoria-based group representing medical users, is warning all patients away from the new dope at least until it completes new lab tests.

'Nobody should smoke this stuff until we see test results ourselves and until we get an explanation from Health Canada about what happened with the first batch,' Philippe Lucas said Monday.

'We've called right now for a moratorium on the use, research and distribution of this cannabis by all legal medical users.'

Lucas says his group had the first batch tested by independent labs, which found the THC content to be less than half the advertised level of 10.2 per cent. Internal documents from Health Canada also suggest the material contains other potentially harmful contaminants, he said.

Health Canada disagrees, saying its own testing shows the marijuana has acceptably low levels of contaminants and is as potent as claimed.

Currently, there are 70 licensed Canadians who have received Prairie Plant Systems marijuana, which costs $150 plus GST for a 30-gram bag. Forty-seven licensed users have also received the company's seeds to grow their own.

Patients say marijuana helps relieve a variety of symptoms caused by AIDS, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions. Health Canada - which was required by the courts to provide the marijuana - says the medical case for marijuana remains unproven.

Almost 600 users have been given permission to grow their own marijuana from seeds or to have designated growers cultivate it for them. Most such users and growers obtain their seeds from the black market. 

But some are concerned about Health Canada proposals to end private cultivation of marijuana by 2007, forcing everyone to either buy government dope or get it off the streets.

'Patients are pretty fed up with the Health Canada product, and they do want alternatives,' said Eric Nash, a licensed marijuana grower in Duncan, B.C., whose operation provides for five patients.

'That's the big key, is having a choice of supply rather than being locked into one supply.'

Saunders said the supplier is examining other ways to improve the product, including changing the moisture content.

Health Canada's $5.75-million contract with Prairie Plant Systems, which grows its marijuana in an old mine shaft in Flin Flon, Man., ends next year. The department is expected to put out to tender shortly two new contracts to grow government dope.

Health Canada is also rewriting regulations to allow a pilot program in British Columbia to distribute government marijuana in pharmacies.



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