Toronto New regulations took effect Monday expanding the number of Canadians allowed to use medical marijuana, but those eligible say the system resembles a bureaucratic maze likely to delay hundreds more from participating.
The rules are part of the first system in the world that includes a government-approved and paid-for supply of marijuana for people suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis or severe arthritis.
Patients may grow their own pot or designate someone to grow it for them. In addition, the health department is paying a Saskatchewan company to grow government marijuana for eligible patients and use in research.
While medical marijuana advocates in the United States look at the Canadian system with envy, some users north of the border complain hurdles remain in place.
"I still have to fend for myself," said Jim Bridges, 37, who already has government permission to use marijuana for the pain and nausea of AIDS. He automatically comes under the new regulations but is awaiting word on how to submit a photo for the identification card legal pot smokers will have to carry.
Almost 300 Canadians such as Bridges previously were exempted from federal drug laws that make it a criminal offense to grow and possess marijuana. Health department officials say hundreds more have applied, and the figure could reach the thousands.
Roslyn Tremblay, a Health Canada spokeswoman, said Monday that application forms under the new regulations would be available "very soon," but she was unable to provide a specific date.
To join up, applicants must submit verifiable medical records and have a doctor's endorsement. Cases except for critically terminal patients require further supporting documents from another doctor.
The new rules permit drug possession for the terminally ill with a prognosis of death within one year; those with symptoms associated with specific serious medical conditions; and those with other medical conditions who have statements from two doctors saying conventional treatments have not worked. Eligible patients include those with severe arthritis, cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
The Canadian Medical Assn., which represents tens of thousands of doctors, opposes the new regulations because they make physicians responsible for prescribing a substance that lacks significant clinical research on its effects. Without the cooperation of doctors, patients cannot get medical marijuana exemptions.