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Saskatoon-based grow-op watches closely as Ottawa changes medical marijuana rules

Canadian Press - June 11, 2013

Business won't go up in smoke for Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems Inc. when the federal government steps back from producing and distributing medical marijuana.

After two years of study and discussion, the federal government has finalized new rules for medical marijuana and granted a reprieve to pharmacists who opposed the rules in their draft form.

Under the new regime, the government will no longer produce or distribute medical pot, and medical marijuana users will no longer be allowed to grow the product at home. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq rolled out the regulations on Monday for formal publication in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday.

Prairie Plant Systems, the sole supplier of medical marijuana for Health Canada, could expand its products under the new federal rules. The company's contract to provide up to 750 kilograms of marijuana annually to Health Canada expires in March 2014. In the meantime, it will apply for a new licence when the new rules take effect.

"It gives us some more freedom to engage with patients to find out what their needs are," company president and CEO Brent Zettl said.

"It's good in a sense that it helps companies such as ourselves to hone in on different varieties to provide better symptom relief for their particular condition."

There are suggestions, but no definitive research, that different strains of marijuana are better suited for certain ailments, Zettl said. The new rules might lead to more research in the private and public sectors to help doctors and patients find consistent information and better ways to use medical marijuana, he added.

"In the meantime, we can provide some relief and a little better variety for patients with the safety and consistency which are our hallmarks," Zettl said.

According to Health Canada, since the medical marijuana program was introduced in 2001, it has expanded to 30,000 people from the original 500 authorized to use the product.

Under the new regulations, the government will allow patients to buy prescribed amounts only from licensed growers who will be required to meet strict conditions.

The final version removes the pharmacists from the loop, leaving patients to rely on mail order for their medical marijuana.

Physicians and pharmacists alike questioned the regulatory changes, saying there is little evidence that medical marijuana is either effective or safe.

The umbrella group representing the country's colleges of physicians and surgeons said the changes won't protect people.

"We believe that the new federal medical marijuana regulations put patients and the general public at risk," Dr. Rocco Gerace, president of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, said in a statement.

"Physicians should not be asked to prescribe or dispense substances or treatments for which there is little or no evidence of clinical efficacy or safety."