Canada Broadens Medical Marijuana Use

ByABC News
July 30, 2001, 7:49 AM

T O R O N T O, Canada, July 30 -- Canadians suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions such as arthritis can legally grow and smoke marijuana, or designate someone else to grow it for them, underregulations that take effect today.

The new rules are part of the first system in the world that includes a government-approved and paid-for supply of marijuana, now being grown in a former mine in northern Manitoba.

The rules will expand the number of people beyond the 292 in the country currently exempted from federal drug laws that make it a criminal offense to grow and use marijuana.

While some in Canada complain the new regulations create bureaucratic hurdles and put doctors in the unsettling role of prescribing something they know little about, the Canadian system looks wonderful to U.S. medical marijuana advocates battling a zero-tolerance attitude.

"We're kind of envious of Canadians having the luxury of complaining about the minutiae of the program," said Chuck Thomas of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project. "It seems like areasonable system."

Eight U.S. states have taken some kind of step toward permitting the medicinal use of marijuana: California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada and Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court,however, ruled earlier this year that there is no exception in federal law for people to use marijuana, so even people with state medical-exemptions could face arrest if they do.

North of the border in the country that is the biggest U.S. trade partner, attitudes are different. Justice Minister Anne McLellan said the issue of decriminalizing marijuana should be studied, and the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to consider a challenge against the constitutionality of criminal marijuana laws.

More Than 500 Applications Pending

The new health regulations were drawn up after a court ruling last year that gave the government until July 31 to create a way for people requiring marijuana for medicinal purposes to legallyobtain it.