The CMA says the federal government's new rules concerning the use of marijuana for medical purposes ignore one of the bedrock tenets of mainstream medicine - that there be clinical evidence supporting a drug's use before it is employed as a medical therapy.
When the new rules take full effect April 1, 2014, the federal government will no longer be involved in authorizing the use of medical marijuana or in distributing it. Instead, "health care practitioners will sign a medical document enabling patients to purchase the appropriate amount for their medical condition from a licensed producer approved by Health Canada."
Essentially, says the CMA, physicians will become the drug's gatekeepers. Health Canada says it will "soon" publish information for health practitioners on potential therapeutic uses of marijuana, but CMA President Anna Reid is unimpressed. "Asking physicians to prescribe drugs that have not been clinically tested runs contrary to their training and ethics," she said.
"Expecting doctors to write prescriptions for marijuana without the existence of such evidence is akin to asking them to work blindfolded and to potentially jeopardize the safety of patients."
A recent poll conducted for the CMA found that 85% of Canadians think marijuana should undergo the same rigorous testing and approval processes required for other drugs used for medical purposes.
The new rules also change the source of the drug because the federal government will no longer produce or distribute medical marijuana. As well, people who use it will no longer be allowed to grow the plant at home. Instead, they will have to buy "prescribed amounts" of marijuana from licensed growers.
Reid says the CMA simply wants the use of marijuana for medical purposes to be backed by evidence. "The federal government will not help address this lack of evidence by abdicating its responsibility to protect the health of Canadians," she said.
In 2011, the Canadian Medical Protective Association noted that physicians were not obliged to sign patients' applications to use medical marijuana. If they did sign, it recommended that the patient be asked to sign a form releasing doctors from potential liability.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the government brought in the new regulations "to strengthen the safety of Canadian communities," in part by eliminating criminal actions related to grow-at-home marijuana operations.
The number of authorized medical marijuana users in Canada has grown from 500 in 2001 to more than 30,000 today.