The Ottawa Citizen
MARIJUANA EXPERT'S CREDIBILITY IN QUESTION
Health Canada Hires Scientist Developing Alternative To Drug To Outline Weed's Dangers
Monday, October 28, 2002
TORONTO -- The federal government has hired a U.S. scientist to outline the dangers of
smoking marijuana in a continuing court case, despite his ties to a large pharmaceutical
company that manufactures a synthetic alternative to the drug.
Professor Billy Martin has worked with Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc. for the past
year to further development of a metered dose inhaler for THC --the major
psychoactive component in marijuana -- that was patented by the
Solvay, a Belgian-based multi-national pharmaceutical company, also markets
Marinol, a drug with chemically synthesized THC that can be obtained by
prescription in Canada.
"I agree with most scientific experts who assert that the future lies with pure synthetic
cannabinoids as medications rather than marijuana," Martin wrote in an affidavit filed
in Ontario Superior Court.
Marinol takes at least two hours to fully enter the bloodstream, which makes it less
effective for pain relief, according to advocates of smoking marijuana for medical use.
Martin, who was unavailable for comment, was commissioned by Health Canada as
part of its response to a court challenge to the new Marijuana Medical Access
Seven chronically ill people and the founder of the Toronto Compassion Centre,
which distributed marijuana, argue the regulations are unconstitutional.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said its lawyers determined there was "no
conflict" in using Martin as an impartial scientific expert. As well, the scientist's
connections to Solvay were disclosed to the applicants.
"He is the leading expert," said Health Canada spokesman Andrew Swift, who
indicated Martin will be paid about $9,000 Cdn for his evidence in the Ontario court
Martin is the chairman of the Pharmacology and Toxicology department at Virginia
Commonwealth University in Richmond. Since 1988, he has been the director of a
special research centre funded by the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse.
"Marijuana has a long history of use by humanity," conceded Martin in his evidence.
But he stressed "the science base is far from clear."
There have been very few valid scientific studies about the potential clinical benefits
of marijuana, said Martin, in part because of "the financial burden of a clinical
evaluation on a product without a commercial sponsor."
The federal government established new marijuana guidelines after the Ontario Court
of Appeal ruled in July 2000 that a blanket prohibition violated the Charter of Rights
Lawyers challenging the regulations argued in Superior Court last month the new
rules are so complex that seriously ill Canadians cannot make use of them.
In defence of the regulations, the Justice Department made a number of references in
its written arguments about the health risks of smoking marijuana, contained in a
1999 report issued by the U.S. Institute of Medicine. The report was commissioned by
the U.S. government's Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Martin served on the advisory panel for the report.