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I would like to clarify a few issues regarding the Health Canada Medicinal Marihuana Access Regulations ( MMAR ) program.

Physicians do not "prescribe pot." Every Canadian citizen qualifies automatically for MMAR if they meet the Health Canada criteria-anyone providing evidence of a qualifying condition, and/or anyone who's been to a specialist for their condition. This has nothing to do with the doctor's views on the matter-patients either qualify or they do not.

Doctors authorize for MMAR by filling out forms declaring that the patient has the condition. This automatically authorizes the patient to possess and grow marihuana. The patient instructs the doctor as to the daily quantity and method by which they consume marihuana. This is much different than a physician prescribing a medication-where the doctor instructs the patient.

Although above the B.C. average, Chilliwack doctors underauthorize for patients needing MMAR. According to the World Drug Report issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime ( 2007 ), 16.8 per cent of Canadians, ages 15 to 64, smoked or ingested cannabis in 2006. It follows that out of 69,217 residents in Chilliwack, 11,628 would be users. Daily users are usually self-medicating for a range of conditions from depression to severe arthritis pain to cancer. In my large 4,500-patient practice, about 200 qualify for MMAR. Extrapolating from this, over 3,000 in Chilliwack could require access to medicinal marihuana and are not receiving the care they require. It is not about joints or THC. In cannabis, THC is only one of over 60 cannabinoids ( natural medicinal chemicals ). THC gets the user 'stoned' when it is heated ( smoked or cooked ). Cannabidiol ( CBD ) is a pain-fighting, anti-inflammatory cannabinoid that gives no high and can mitigate the euphoric effects of THC. THC is not active in its raw form whereas CBD is.

Patients with larger gardens are usually ingesting, not smoking. People using medicinal marihuana are almost always ingesting it -in baking, tea, or juice-versus smoking it. A single joint may contain 0.5 to 1 gram of cannabis. A serving of raw, juiced marihuana ( think Booster Juice wheatgrass shot ) requires tens of grams of raw, green bud to produce. From a doctor's perspective, juice or tea is preferable to smoking.

It is wrong to contend that a patient with a "120 light grow-op," is smoking it. I have explained this to the mayor and others during a November 2011 meeting held to discuss ramifications of MMAR.

A physician's duty: "First, do no harm." Physicians prescribe highly addictive morphine derivatives-extreme adverse effects, high street-value and deadly in overdose. If a patient is denied their right to access MMAR then they are forced to choose between suffering, taking dangerous narcotics or the anxiety of criminalized use. Families are drawn into gang violence associated with black market drug production.

Physicians and police are beginning to recognize the great harm to individuals and society that comes from unscientific drug policies. Physicians authorizing marihuana use are not 'pot doctors,' they're compassionate doctors who care about patients and society. Physicians practising legal medicine need to be free from pressure instigated by politicians that impedes patients from accessing required care.

Note: Dr. Gwyllyn S. Goddard is a local family physician trained at McGill University and a coalition member of stoptheviolencebc.org

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