In an astonishingly reserved series of statements, Health Canada has agreed that marijuana is a medicine, and that it will likely approve limited medicinal access to the herb sometime over the next few months.
Dann Michols, the man in charge of regulating drugs and medical devices in Canada, says Health Canada is ready to approve the medical use of marijuana on a case-by-case basis.
According to Michols, “Marijuana as a medicine is not an outlandish proposition? Marijuana is no different than morphine, no different than codeine, no different than Aspirin.”
Arrest and Refusal
Despite his enthusiasm for medical pot, last December Michols turned down a request by the University of Ottawa’s Dr. Don Kilby to provide an AIDS patient with marijuana, but apparently only because of technical flaws in the application.
“It would be approved if the changes are made,” said Michols. “There is no problem, basically, with marijuana as a medicine.”
Dr. Kilby had been seeking Health Canada’s permission to prescribe marijuana to Jean Charles Pariseau, a Vanier man who suffers from AIDS and other complications.
Dr. Kilby had witnessed Pariseau’s weight increase and health recover after he began using marjiuana, while dozens of other medications had done nothing to improve his failing health.
In October of 1997 Pariseau was arrested by the RCMP and charged with possession of marijuana. Dr. Kilby wanted Pariseau to have legal access to marijuana, and after a month of research aided by a team of lawyers and medical assistants, he found the way to do it.
On December 17, 1997, Dr. Kilby applied to Health Canada’s Emergency Dr.ug Release Program (EDRP) to have marijuana approved for Pariseau’s use. This program allows unauthorized medicines to be approved on a case-by-case basis, often within three days of the application being made. Health Canada turned down the application because of the proposed manufacturer.
A Licensed Grower
Under the EDRP regulations, the doctor must provide the name of the drug’s manufacturer. Dr. Kilby listed Aubert Martin, an Ottawa man with 20 years of experience in growing marijuana.
But Martin has to have a research license under the Controlled Dr.ug and Substance Act before marijuana can be approved as a medicine for Pariseau.
To satisfy the Ministry of Health, Martin would have to prove that he has a secure, safe environment to grow the marijuana, and that he has a background in medical research. By Health Canada standards, he has neither.
So for Dr. Kilby to be successful, he must find a different source for marijuana, one that has a Controlled Dr.ugs and Substances Act research license.
Most research institutes, universities and pharmaceutical companies in Canada have this research license. If Dr. Kirby finds just one that is willing to ask Health Canada for permission to experiment with marijuana and then promises to become a supplier, Health Canada should approve marijuana as a medicine for Pariseau.
“I don’t feel that bad about being shot down,” said Dr. Kilby. “We knew we would have some hurdles that we’d have to go through, and I’m optimistic that we’re going to meet their requirements. There’s a way around this problem and we’re going to get around it.”
No Patent, no Medicine
Michols explained that the Emergency Dr.ug Release Program only applies on an individual basis, and that marijuana would likely only be permanently approved for medical use in Canada if someone could figure out a way to patent it.
“There has to be a process where we are able to say they have undertaken the right experiments and produced a result that shows the benefit is greater than the risk for the individual patients.” said Michols, adding that it takes millions of dollars and up to ten years to put a drug through the Health Canada tests.
“I can only conjecture, but it probably has to do with the inability to ensure market exclusivity,” elaborated Michols. “You have millions and millions going into patented medicines because the company can patent it and recoup their costs.
“Marijuana is not dissimilar to the situation with other herbal remedies: you go to all the trouble of proving a herb helps a common cold, and then once you’ve spent the money there’s nothing to stop someone else from coming along and growing the same thing without the burden of the testing costs.”
Gov-pot or Grow Your Own?
Even if the feds do allow medical marijuana, don’t expect that to bring an end to the busts and raids of pot-people. Unlike California, where the current system allows anyone to grow medical marijuana, the Canadian government will certainly tightly regulate and restrict the cultivation of medical marijuana.
Regardless, with the federal government providing pot to its sickest citizens, it will become increasingly difficult to justify spending billions to incarcerate those who are healthy, but nevertheless choose to grow their own.