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The BBC's Andrew Craig
"Patients have reported that cannabis helps to relieve the symptoms of a variety of diseases"
 real 28k

Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
Canada legalises medical marijuana
Cannabis is said to help relieve symptoms of various diseases
Canada is to become the first country to legalise possession of cannabis to chronically ill people - if it will help them cope with their conditions

From the end of this month, patients will be given photo identity cards stating they have a right to possess or grow the drug.

This compassionate measure will improve the quality of life of sick Canadians, particularly those who are terminally ill

Health minister
Patients have reported that cannabis helps to relieve the symptoms of a variety of diseases, including arthritis, cancer, Aids and multiple sclerosis.

The Canadian health minister, Allan Rock, described the new regulations as a compassionate measure.

But Hugh Scully, a former president of the Canadian medical association, criticised the move, saying that too little was known about possible harm from the drug.

Right to possession

In Britain, juries have acquitted defendants who say they have smoked the drug for medical purposes, even though the law does not allow it.

Rolling a marijuana cigarette
Recreational use of marijuana is still illegal
The United States Supreme Court, on the other hand, recently ruled against moves in California to relax the law.

Canada is now giving some patients the formal right to possess cannabis and to grow a limited number of plants.

They will be able to apply if their doctors certify that they have a terminal illness or one of a number of specified medical conditions - and that conventional treatments have not worked.

Home grown

The Canadian Government also plans to license a company in Saskatchewan to start growing cannabis legally.

However, for the time being, there will be no legal way for sufferers to obtain the drug other than to grow it themselves, or to have it grown by a nominated friend or relative.

Commercial production will continue to be a criminal offence.

Officially, the new rules have no implications for the law in Canada on recreational use of cannabis.

But there, as in many countries, the pros and cons of de-criminalisation are being hotly debated.

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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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