Medical marijuana must go through clinical trials before release says McLellan

Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - Health Minister Anne McLellan won't release any of the marijuana being grown for the government to distribute to sick and dying patients until it has been tested in clinical trials, her spokeswoman said Monday.

The stipulation suggests the marijuana, being grown in an old mine Flin Flon, Man., won't be made available to severely sick or dying patients for years, if ever.

It also suggests McLellan is taking a much tougher line on the use of medical marijuana than her predecessor Allan Rock.

Clinical trials usually involve giving one group of people a drug and another group a placebo and observing differences. Such studies can take years to design and conduct.

And it's far from certain that clinical trials will in the end prove any therapeutic benefit, which raises the possibility that the Flin Flon crop will never be made available to sick people who claim it helps them.

When Rock announced the Manitoba pot-growing contract last July, he said some would be used for research and some could be given to patients who qualified because they were severely ill or dying.

"It will . . . be made available to authorized Canadians using it for medical purposes who agree to provide information to Health Canada for monitoring and research purposes," a news release at the time said.

The assumption implicit in McLellan's position is that the effectiveness of medical marijuana must be proven by the most rigorous scientific standards before patients who are dying can use it.

Farah Mohamed, McLellan's spokeswoman, insisted in an interview Monday that the department is merely following steps set out at the beginning, and time is not the main consideration.

"All of this goes to wanting to mitigate the risks associated with medical marijuana, if there are some, and ensuring there is therapeutic value," she said.

"Despite how much time it might take, if the goal is to ensure what you're doing is in the best interests of people who need marijuana for medicinal purposes . . . then the time is well invested."

It's not known how long clinical trials will take, and Mohamed didn't say when they will begin.

Rock had invited doctors to sign certificates that their patients needed marijuana despite a lack of scientific evidence on its therapeutic effectiveness, which brought protests from some medical groups.

But some doctors have signed the documents and as of April 2, Health Canada had issued 205 authorizations for possession of marijuana. Those authorized patients now have no choice but to grow their own, or get someone to grow it for them, with no legal source of seeds.

Those who supported Rock's approach said lung cancer, the best-known harm from smoking marijuana, wouldn't be a consideration for dying patients.

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