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The BBC's Lee Carter in Toronto
"Several hundred people in Canada have already been allowed to consume marijuana"
 real 28k

Friday, 6 April, 2001, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
Canada boost for medical marijuana
Studies show the drug can benefit some patients
Canada is to make it easier for its citizens to possess and use marijuana for medical purposes, Health Minister Allan Rock announced on Friday.

Draft regulations to be released on Saturday will spell out who will be authorised to grow and smoke the drug - victims of terminal illnesses and chronic conditions such as cancer, Aids, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

They will include tight restrictions, including criminal record checks for people whose doctors prescribe marijuana and limits on the number of plants a patient may grow.

The regulations will help solve an existing problem in Canadian law - that even people who are legally allowed to use cannabis for medical purposes must resort to criminal purchase to get it.

Clarifying procedures

Canadians have been able to apply for medical use of marijuana since 1999, but only 220 people have been licenced to use it so far.

Canada is acting compassionately by allowing people who are suffering to have access to marijuana

Health Minister Allan Rock
After a lawsuit last summer, a court ordered the Canadian Government to clarify the procedure for obtaining the drug for medical purposes. The new regulations are a response to that ruling.

Mr Rock said a licence to grow marijuana would be issued to patients, or their designated representative if their medical condition did not allow them to cultivate it.

"Canada is acting compassionately by allowing people who are suffering from grave and debilitating illnesses to have access to marijuana for medical purposes", he said on Friday.

US concerns

There have been concerns about the policy in the United States, Canada's powerful neighbour to the south, where the Justice Department opposes medical use of marijuana.

Rolling a marijuana cigarette
Rolling a marijuana cigarette
But a number of individual US states allow the practice.

Mr Rock denied that the new regulations were a step towards decriminalising cannabis.

"We've had medical access to morphine and heroin for a long time and it hasn't been the thin edge of the wedge for legalising those drugs", he said.

In December, Canada licenced a private company, Prairie Plant Systems, to grow marijuana for medical use.

It is thought that Mr Rock is considering eventually relying on such private companies to provide medical marijuana so that patients will not have to grow it themselves.

Asked two years ago if he had used marijuana, Mr Rock - who spent a day with John Lennon in Ottawa in 1969 - said: "Not for medical purposes."

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See also:

09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Cannabis: What if it were legal?
20 Jun 00 | Health
Marijuana 'helps tumours grow'
17 Jun 00 | Europe
Swiss move to ease cannabis law
02 Mar 00 | Health
Cannabis 'helps MS sufferers'
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