With licensing of growerscomes a greater toleranceby society for the drug By ANTHONY DEPALMA New York Times OTTAWA -- As the government puts the finishing touches on regulations that will make Canada one of the first countries to license marijuana growers, deepening public tolerance toward the drug is clearing the path to legal reforms that could make Canada far more permissive of marijuana than the United States. Officials with the group Health Canada say that by the end of July, marijuana growers will be able to apply for special licenses to produce small amounts of marijuana legally for people with terminal illnesses or chronic diseases to ease pain. Over the past few years, more than 250 Canadians have received government permission to smoke marijuana for medical purposes, and many more will qualify for the exemptions when the new regulations take effect, but until then, they must either grow the marijuana or buy it illegally. Health officials say although there is no scientific proof that marijuana has medicinal properties, testimony from people who have used it to overcome the nausea associated with chemotherapy or to help with their glaucoma and other diseases has been so convincing that the government has decided to make it legal under certain circumstances. What officials had not counted on, however, is that by debating and then authorizing this specialized use of marijuana, they would be seen by many Canadians as legitimizing the use of the drug. A recent survey showed that 47percent of Canadians agreed that marijuana should be legalized, a sharp increase over the number five years ago. "A new mood seems to be sweeping the country," said Reginald Bibby, a professor at the University of Lethbridge who studies Canadian attitudes toward marijuana. For 20 years, starting in 1975, the percentage of Canadians who favored legalizing marijuana ranged from 24 to 31. "Unquestionably, there is a link between government actions and the changes in public attitudes," Bibby said. An estimated 1.5million Canadians smoke marijuana recreationally, according to the Canadian Medical Association. Until recently, approaches toward the medical use of marijuana were similar in the United States and Canada. But last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal law banning the distribution of marijuana for medical purposes.