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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Canada opens door to marijuana
Marijuana
Cannabis still cannot be sold for non-medical use
Canada has become the first country in the world to legalise the use of marijuana by people suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions.

Under new rules, people can now legally grow and take the drug for a range of medical purposes, or appoint someone to grow it for them.

Who can use marijuana?
Terminally ill patients
Aids sufferers
Arthritis sufferers
Cancer sufferers
Multiple Sclerosis sufferers
Epilepsy sufferers
The system is the first in the world where the government will be directly involved in the production and supply of the drug for medical purposes.

The government has awarded a $3.5m (1.6m) contract to a company to farm marjiuana in a disused copper mine. The first harvest is expected later this year.

Patients' groups have largely welcomed the legislation, which follows a year of permits being handed out on a case-by-case basis to terminally ill people.

Wider range

Under the new terms, those suffering from some chronic conditions - including epilepsy and degenerative muscle and bone illnesses - will also be able to use marijuana.

Rolling a marijuana cigarette
Recreational use of marijuana is still illegal

Commercial production and sale of marijuana, and non-medical use, will remain illegal.

However the Canadian Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case arguing that the criminalisation of marijuana is unconstitutional because the drug poses no significant health threat.

In May, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported that a national survey of Canadians found that almost half were in favour of the legalisation of marijuana.

Consent

Would-be medical users must have a prognosis of death within one year or symptoms associated with specific serious medical conditions.

Marijuana crop
The government is funding a scheme to grow the drug underground

They will also need their doctor and two experts to sign the necessary consent forms.

The Canadian Medical Association opposes the new law, saying that there has not been enough scientific research for doctors properly prescribe dosage.

They also say the effects of marijuana combined with patients' more traditional medicines are unknown, and warn that many people may ignore the rules altogether.

The Marijuana Party of Canada - a political party dedicated to legalising the drug - says that if the country took the path of the Netherlands and decriminalised marijuana, then there would be no need for the complex legislation.

'A reasonable system'

However, across the border in the United States, advocates of the use of marijuana for medical purposes have welcomed the new system.

"We're kind of envious of Canadians having the luxury of complaining about the minutiae of the program," said Chuck Thomas from the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project.

"It looks like a reasonable system, " he added.

Eight US states have taken steps towards legalising the medical use of marijuana.

However, the Supreme Court in Washington ruled earlier this year that federal law would not recognise state medical exemptions, leaving people open to prosecution.

See also:

31 May 01 | UK
'Pain drove me to pot'
14 May 01 | Americas
US outlaws 'medical' marijuana
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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