Russia Leads Canada and U.S. in Drug Reform

This week, Vancouver's crackdown on its illegal drug market appears to have spread the problem around the city; Australia's NSW government seeks medical cannabis trials as long as patients cannot grow their own medicine; Bayer applies to Health Canada to market the first prescription pharmaceutical marijuana spray; the Vermont House advances a medical marijuana bill; Canada's federal government drops a marijuana decriminalization bill; and Russia decriminalizes personal drug possession.

May 11- The Victoria (BC) Times-Colonist reports: Vancouver's police crackdown on the Downtown Eastside drug market didn't deter users from taking drugs, didn't prompt them to go into treatment, and didn't change the price of drugs, says a report published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

But, the report says, the intensive police action that began last April did spread drug activity from a concentrated area around Main and Hastings to a much wider area throughout the Downtown Eastside, which has the potential for drawing in new users and increasing HIV infection rates.

May 12- Australia's Herald Sun reports: The NSW government has sought federal backing to try cannabis as a medicinal treatment for people suffering acute pain that cannot be treated with more conventional therapies.

NSW Premier Bob Carr has written to Prime Minister John Howard seeking his help in setting up the trial involving HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis patients.

Mr. Carr said the Government did not intend to decriminalize cannabis, and other alternatives of accessing cannabis would have to be explored.

"NSW is opposed to any scheme which involves growing cannabis in backyards or requiring sick people to buy it on the black market," Mr. Carr said.

May 12- Canada's Globe and Mail reports: The world's first proposed cannabis-laced prescription drug to relieve pain may get its start in Canada.

Pharmaceutical giant Bayer announced yesterday that it has applied to Health Canada for permission to market the drug Sativex to those who suffer from multiple sclerosis and severe neuropathic pain.

The application was made in conjunction with the developers of the drug, the pioneering British firm GW Pharmaceuticals, which has been growing about 40,000 pot plants a year at a secret location in a government-approved research project.

Sativex is a medicinal mouth spray developed from the major components of marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

It would be the first prescription drug that uses real marijuana extracts and not a synthesized form, according to its proponents.

May 13- Associated Press reports: The House gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill that would allow people with certain life-threatening illnesses to use marijuana to relieve pain and nausea without fear of arrest and prosecution.

"This bill does not legalize marijuana," said Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre Town and chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee. "What it does do is say that for a limited number of people with debilitating and intractable diseases who have registered with the Department of Public Safety, that we will not arrest and prosecute them, even though what they are doing is technically illegal."

May 14- The Regina Leader-Post reports: A bill to decriminalize marijuana has gone up in smoke, failing for the second time in six months and prompting criticism the Martin government deliberately killed the proposal.

"As we speak, it doesn't look too good," Mario Lague, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said as the House of Commons wrapped up its last voting day before an anticipated election call this month.

Critics contend the Liberals lacked the political will to pass the controversial legislation proposing to decriminalize possession of less than 15 grams of pot, making it an offence punishable with a fine rather than a criminal record.

May 14- Moscow Times reports: Under a new law that came into effect this week, drug users can possess a greatly increased amount of an illegal substance -- for instance, 20 grams of marijuana or 1.5 grams of cocaine -- without the risk of being thrown in jail.

The law has been criticized by the Federal Anti-Drug Service, which says it hampers the battle against drugs, but praised by those who work to rehabilitate drug addicts, who predict more addicts will now seek help.

President Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to the Criminal Code in December stipulating that possession of no more than 10 times the amount of a "single dose" would now be considered an administrative infraction rather than a criminal offense. Punishment would be a fine of no more than 40,000 rubles ($1,380) or community service.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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