McLellan, pharmacists to discuss over-the-counter marijuana sales

Mary Vallis
National Post
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

WINNIPEG - Anne McLellan, the federal Health Minister, will hold preliminary discussions with the Canadian Pharmacists Association next month to determine whether its members can distribute medical marijuana instead of doctors.
Answering doctors' questions at the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting yesterday, Ms. McLellan said the pharmacists' group has "expressed some interest" in providing the dried marijuana to individuals authorized to use it for medical purposes.
In response to a court ruling forcing the federal government to supply the drug, Ms. McLellan last month announced a temporary plan to deliver marijuana to patients through doctors' offices, with physicians being used as "intermediaries" to give the drug to their patients.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), however, is opposed to the policy. Some doctors are also concerned people will break into their offices or that they will be harassed by patients.
" I clearly understand the concerns of the CMA and doctors, and that's why we have contacted both the CMA and the Canadian Association of Pharmacists," Ms. McLellan told doctors after delivering her speech. "We are going to sit down in the weeks ahead, very soon, and talk to both groups and determine how we can move forward in a way that works for everybody."
Officials with the doctors' association are still skeptical. They say there should be clear, scientific proof of marijuana's medicinal properties before it is administered to patients.
" We don't know whether it's safe. We don't know whether it's effective," Dr. Dana Hanson, president of the CMA, said. "It doesn't matter who hands it out.... We've still got the same concerns."
The CMA has 10 criteria for the medical use of marijuana designed to address doctors' concerns about distributing it to patients. The group says the distribution project should function as a clinical trial that would involve the ongoing monitoring and surveillance of patients taking the drug.
Alberta MP Rob Merrifield, the Canadian Alliance health critic, said distributing medical marijuana through pharmacists would not fully relieve doctors of responsibility because they would still need to write prescriptions for a drug that has not been properly tested.
" I hope pharmacists make it clear they want it handled like any other drug and the regulations are in place, same as any other drug," he said after listening to Ms. McLellan's remarks in Winnipeg. "I don't think pharmacists want to be on the front lines of this, either."
Janet Cooper, senior director of professional affairs for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, stressed the talks in September are only preliminary, but that it makes sense to get pharmacies involved.
" If it's a product that's prescribed and used within the Canadian health care system, then it makes common sense," she said. "That's part of what we [pharmacists] do."

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