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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Is health care going to pot?

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

The CALM office in downtown Toronto is filled with goodies. You can buy brownies, banana bread, muffins as well as chocolate chip, peanut butter and oatmeal raisin cookies. But this if far from your average bake sale -- as all of the recipes contain marijuana.

That's because CALM (or Cannabis as Living Medicine) is one of Toronto's illegal Cannabis clubs where those suffering from arthritis, cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis or a number of other diseases can get hold of marijuana to help relieve their symptoms.

"To become a member, you need a letter of diagnosis from your doctor saying that you have one of these diseases," says the club's founder Neev (he goes by his first name only). Neev uses marijuana to prevent serious migraines.

The use of medical marijuana was legalized in Canada in July 2001. Then health minister Allan Rock described the new regulations as a "compassionate measure." But while it became legal for some patients to use the drug, it was illegal for them to buy it.

On July 11, federal Health Minister Anne McLellan took a grudging step towards changing this discrepancy when she announced an interim policy that will allow the government to sell marijuana and seeds to people who qualify under the federal pot program.
Both proponents and critics of medical marijuana support clinical trials by the government to determine its effectiveness at alleviating symptons of illness.

She had little choice, as that was the deadline set by an Ontario court judge for the federal government to come up with a legal distribution plan for medical marijuana. He reasoned that those with permission to use medical marijuana should have a legal supply.

Medical marijuana activists welcome the move. Many doctors, however, do not, and Dr. Dana Hanson, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), doesn't encourage Canadian doctors to change their view of using cannabis as a therapeutic treatment.

"We cannot recommend to our members that they participate in this because the safety of our patients comes first, and we don't have the trials to show if it's safe, who benefits from it and how it interacts with other medicines," Dr. Hanson says.

Since the use of medical marijuana was legalized in Canada two years ago, the CMA has urged the government to develop clinical trials to explore the various strains, delivery methods and the effects cannabis has on patients' symptoms.

"To us, this interim rule is putting the cart before the horse. People with chronic pain deserve the best and most proven treatment to try to address their problems. That's why we advocate clinical trials," Hanson says.

While Neev says that patients need access to medical marijuana now, the CALM founder would also like to see studies showing the effectiveness of marijuana.

So far, none have been completed in Canada, and only one is under way. "We're able to provide really diverse products. We have five strains of cannabis used in baked goods, hash and tinctures. But we would love to be able to analyze what's in each strain and to tell people which to use for their disease."

He also says the interim plan is far from perfect.

"It's good that medicine is finally being delivered, but it's an unknown quality. The best avenue for sick people to get marijuana is in a legal free market, where they can shop around and get the types and strains they need," he says.
Did you know?
The federal government is working on a program to sell medical marijuana to qualified individuals.

Currently, about 500 Canadians qualify under the federal pot program and can benefit from the interim policy, but this may not last long.

Health Canada has already appealed the decision, and the sales program could end quickly if the department wins its appeal.

For more information, visit or

(Susan Poizner ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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