SELECT DRUGSTORES TO SELL POT
Feds Starting Pilot Project Early Next Year
OTTAWA -- Health Canada's long-delayed plan to sell government-certified marijuana in drugstores appears to be back on track for early next year.
The pilot project would stock medicinal pot in some pharmacies for use by authorized patients, making Canada only the second country after The Netherlands to allow easier access through drugstores.
Currently, 237 patients can get Health Canada's medical marijuana through Prairie Plant Systems Inc., which grows the weed in Flin Flon, Man., under a $5.75-million contract with the federal government. Thirty-gram bags of dried buds, costing $150 each, are couriered directly to patients or their physicians.
But since early 2003, when senior officials visited The Netherlands to investigate that country's marijuana distribution program, Health Canada has looked for a way to insert a pharmacist between the manufacturer and the patient.
The department is scouting out a handful of urban and rural pharmacies to begin the pilot project by the first quarter of 2006, spokesman Christopher Williams said.
Health Canada had initially planned a project for last year, but regulations authorizing pharmacy distribution only came into effect on June
7 after a long period of consultation. "Ideally, we'd like to run it in more than one province," Williams said in an interview. "Once we recruit the pharmacists, we'll make sure (they) receive specialized training in dispensing the marijuana for medical purposes."
But while the drugstore plan could help the authorized patients get easier access to the drug, Flin Flon's mayor doesn't think it will lead to an economic spinoff for his community.
"I've been saying since this started that it has great potential for Flin Flon, but not with marijuana," Mayor Dennis Ballard said last night.
"They probably only have five employees here. But if you can grow marijuana, there's lots of herbal medications that can be grown there, and that would be big. They can grow roses and tomatoes there, but I keep waiting for them to grow other herbal medications."
Currently, 943 people are authorized to possess marijuana for medical conditions ranging from AIDS to multiple sclerosis, once a doctor has indicated that traditional remedies are ineffective.
Of these, 695 have permission to grow the plant themselves, while Health Canada has authorized 77 growers to produce it for other patients. Prairie Plant Systems is also distributing a flowering-bud product that currently contains about 14 per cent THC, the main active ingredient. The company's five-year contract ends in December, but is expected to be extended by a year as Health Canada issues a request for proposals for a new long-term arrangement.
The first pharmacies to stock the product are likely to be in British Columbia, said Robin O'Brien, a Vancouver pharmacist who has been asked by Health Canada to participate as a consultant.
An internal document from Health Canada says it could take up to three years to implement a national pharmacy distribution program.