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Canada Gets Baked

Health Canada is getting into the business of selling marijuana to the sick, even while police continue to bust people for growing or dealing the drug illegally.

But a newspaper reports the government would rather people eat or drink their herb rather than smoke it.

Under an interim policy announced Wednesday, the government will sell bags of marijuana seeds and dried marijuana to sick patients who qualify under Ottawa's medical pot program.

The announcement came on the day an Ontario court judge set as the deadline for the federal government to come up with regulations for distributing medical marijuana. The judge ruled Ottawa couldn't logically give sick people permission to use pot without also providing a legal source of supply.

Health Canada is appealing the ruling and Health Minister Anne McLellan hinted the sales program could end quickly if her department wins the appeal.

"It was never the intention for us to provide product," she said in Edmonton. "What we wanted to do was in fact determine whether there is medicinal benefit in relation to the use of marijuana."

She expressed strong skepticism about the premise of the medical marijuana program instituted by her predecessor, Allan Rock.

"There have been no studies anywhere in the world that have been able to confirm medicinal benefit," she said.

The tone of her comments differed from that used by Rock who said the medical marijuana program was based on compassion for people who are seriously ill or in discomfort.

Canadian Alliance health critic Rob Merrifield said McLellan has been left out on a limb by Rock's initiative. He said marijuana should have to go through the same scientific testing as any other drug.

About 500 people now qualify to use marijuana under the program, but they have been required to grow their own pot, designate someone to grow it for them or get it on the black market.

That was the problem that led the Ontario Court of Justice to declare the law unconstitutional and give the government six months to fix it.

Health Canada is charging $20 for 20 seeds or $150 for a 30-gram bag of dried grass. The product is grown by Prairie Plant Systems at a mine in Flin Flon, Man.

According to the Toronto Globe & Mail, the government minister in charge of the program is advising that people bake the marijuana into brownies or use it in tea, rather than smoking it.

To qualify under the medical access program, people must meet detailed medical requirements and get the endorsement of a doctor. Many would-be users haven't been able to qualify.

"What about the thousands of others?" asked Alison Myrden, a woman who spoke from her wheel chair at a news conference Wednesday.

Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, chair of a Senate committee that called for pot to be decriminalized, was highly critical of Wednesday's announcement.

"You can smell the bad faith of the government," said Nolin. "The government doesn't do anything but react. Thank goodness for the courts."

Although Rock and McLellan have both stressed the importance of research into the medicinal value of marijuana, no studies have yet been completed and only one is under way.

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