Canadians For Safe Access  
grassroots, action-oriented patient rights

CSA International HIV/AIDS Day Handout, Toronto, 2003

Canadians for Safe Access (CSA) is an action-oriented, grassroots campaign of patients, supporters and suppliers working at the local, provincial and national level to change the unjust laws that prevent Canadians from accessing therapeutic cannabis.

We are very concerned about the current situation regarding HIV/AIDS research, education and treatment, and the seriously flawed system of legal exemption for medicinal users of cannabis.

According to a study presented by Michelle Furler at the 2003 Ontario HIV Treatment Network Research Conference, nearly 1 in 3 (29%) of HIV patients in Ontario are currently using cannabis for medical purposes.

Health Minister McLellan continues to state that more research into marijuana is necessary. However, earlier this year Health Canada cut the funding to the Community Resource Institute of Toronto's HIV/AIDS research protocol, one of only 2 federally approved therapeutic cannabis research projects. CRIT had spent about $800,000 of a $2-million grant before its funding was terminated in March, just as it was about to begin clinical trials.

Health Canada's negligence towards this issue resulted in HIV+ Dr. Greg Robinson's resignation from the Cannabis Stakeholder Advisory Committee. Greg was one of two people with serious illnesses on the committee. In a letter to Health Minister Anne McLellan, he stated ... "Not only did this move totally contradict your and Health Canada's publicly stated commitment to clinical research on medicinal marihuana, it also forced CRIT to close. The loss of CRIT, as the only AIDS organization in Canada dedicated solely to HIV/AIDS community- based research, is a tragedy."

There is only one other marijuana project underway and it deals with the effects of cannabis on pain. Other projects are expected but haven't been approved.

On October 30, Don Appleby died in an explosion while trying to process low-potency cannabis into a more usable form. Don was living with AIDS and struggling to survive off disability benefits. With great difficulty Don was able to obtain a MMAR exemption from Health Canada, but not the medicine he needed. Don's premature passing is a tragedy which could, and should, have been prevented.

Despite an October 7th Ontario Appellate Court decision that found Health Canada's Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) unconstitutional, Health Canada has yet to make the required court-ordered changes to the program. The Ontario Appellate Court upheld an earlier ruling in the Hitzig case that forced the federal government to make cannabis available to 600+ MMAR license holders with a proven medical need for this herb.

The stated goal of the Appellate Court was to establish a licensing protocol and a positive legal climate for Canada‚s network of compassion clubs. The court decision reads:

"[174] ...a central component of the Government's case is that there is an established part of the black market, which has historically provided a safe source of marihuana to those with the medical need for it, and that there is therefore no supply issue. The Government says that these "unlicensed suppliers" should continue to serve as the source of supply for those with a medical exemption. Since our remedy in effect simply clears the way for a licensing of these suppliers, the Government cannot be heard to argue that our remedy is unworkable."

This order was effective immediately, with the Appellate Judges specifically pointing to the violation of rights that would occur should this decision be delayed or suspended: "[175] ...To suspend our remedy if they may die in the meantime is, in our view, inconsistent with fundamental Charter values." In spite of this, Health Canada has failed to enact the changes ordered by this court.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which has long advised physician's not to fill out the forms necessary to access Health Canada's program, has now also recommended that they not participate in the distribution of therapeutic cannabis until further research has been done on this benign herb, effectively rendering the Health Canada plan unworkable.

We have recently been shocked to learn that Department of Justice Canada is proceeding with criminal charges against the operators of the Toronto Compassion Centre (including Warren Hitzig) resulting from the pointless and unnecessarily violent raid and arrests of August 2002. Similar charges against the Vancouver Island Compassion Society were dismissed and its operator told to get back to helping Canadians.††

"Compassion societies are currently helping more people and producing more significant cannabis research than the expensive and much-maligned Health Canada program," says CSA Acting-Director Philippe Lucas, noting that some physicians are already asking Health Canada to send government cannabis to compassion clubs, who alone have the necessary experience, expertise, and security measures in place to ensure safe and effective distribution.

Please consult for further information about this confusing and frustrating state of affairs.