Wanted: Pot Growers

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    Apply to Health Canada
    WINNIPEG -- People who want to grow pot for the federal government may
    soon get the chance.

    Health Canada's five-year, $5.75-million contract with its current
    supplier of medicinal marijuana, Prairie Plant Systems, appears to be
    winding down and the department is preparing to seek proposals from all
    potential suppliers.

    "Public Works and Government Services Canada continues to negotiate
    with Prairie Plant Systems to ensure an uninterrupted supply of marijuana
    for research and for authorized users while a ( request for proposal )
    process is carried out to identify a long-term supplier," said Health
    Canada spokeswoman Carole Saindon.

    As it does for a wide range of contracts -- from building maintenance
    to military supplies -- the government will invite interested companies
    and individuals to submit bids for a pot-growing contract.

    It will then try to choose the one offering top quality and value for

    The process could result in Prairie Plant Systems being selected again,
    or some other supplier could get the nod.

    Some who use the current pot supply are urging the government to shop

    "What we need to move beyond is the idea of a single monopoly producer
    of medical cannabis," Philippe Lucas, a medicinal pot user and
    spokesman for the group Canadians for Safe Access, said from Victoria, B.C.

    "The end users of this product -- Canada's critically and chronically
    ill -- would benefit from having options."

    People on medicinal marijuana respond better to different strains of
    the drug, Lucas said, and want the right to choose from a selection.

    About 280 patients currently receive the government pot, which Prairie
    Plant Systems grows in an unused section of a hard-rock mine near Flin
    Flon, Man. Most patients buy 30-gram bags of ground plant buds for

    Many users returned the initial batches of the underground ganja,
    saying it was too weak to relieve their symptoms and was also too dry.

    Prairie Plant Systems made changes in 2004 to boost the levels of THC -
    -- the active ingredient in marijuana -- and said return rates dropped
    to less than 2%.

    Health Canada's contract with the company expired last December. It
    was renewed until the end of June and has been extended until Sept. 30.

    It's not clear whether there will be further extensions or whether the
    government will call for bids before the end of September.

    When the federal government first sought marijuana suppliers in 2000,
    Prairie Plant Systems beat out several bidders from British Columbia,
    Ontario and other provinces.

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