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Skepticism about proposed medical marijuana rules not limited to MDs: poll

A poll conducted for the CMA indicates that Canadians share physicians' skepticism about the federal government's proposals for revising its approach to the use of medical marijuana.

The online poll of 1,000 Canadians, which was conducted in late February, found that 85% of respondents believe that the drug "should go through the same rigorous testing and approval as other medicines." As well, 70% said Health Canada would be failing to meet its responsibility to Canadians if it ended its role in authorizing the use of medical marijuana.

The questions in the poll referred to a draft proposal to make physicians the gatekeepers responsible for access to the drug, with Health Canada washing its hands of all involvement. A survey of CMA members conducted last year found that physicians are leery about the proposal - 57% said they do not have enough information about the risks and benefits of using the drug for medical purposes to prescribe it.

The 2013 poll of non-physicians found that 79% of respondents think Health Canada should maintain its current role in the approval process, a result that did not surprise CMA President Anna Reid.

"Citizens rightly expect Health Canada to approve medications on the basis that they have been proven safe and effective and that an understanding of proper dosage and possible side effects exists," she said.

Reid pointed out that an overwhelming proportion of respondents to the February poll - 92% - thought it was either very or somewhat important for Health Canada to maintain its oversight role until proper guidelines for the use of medical marijuana are available.

"They understand that it's not fair to impose that gatekeeper role on physicians when the necessary science is clearly lacking," she said.

The CMA is not alone in opposing the changes. In a Feb. 28 letter to Health Canada, the Canadian Pharmacists Association said medical marijuana should be subject to the same approval requirements as other drugs.

The letter also stated that while the new rules would allow pharmacists to dispense medical marijuana if they were authorized by their province/territory and regulatory authority, pharmacists are concerned about the lack of evidence supporting the drug's use and "the potential security risks to pharmacies due to robberies."

In a separate letter to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Reid said the CMA has always "acknowledged the unique requirements" of patients who are experiencing a terminal illness or chronic disease and find that "marijuana used for medicinal purposes may provide relief."

However, the revised regulations "do not contribute to improving patient care or advancing our clinical knowledge.... We urge Health Canada to take the views of Canadians and physicians into consideration."

Doing this, she concluded, will require "significant revision" of Health Canada's current proposals.

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