Canada: New Rules Ban Home Medical Cannabis Cultivation; Patients Outraged
By Steve Elliott
Canada's medical marijuana program will ban the legal cultivation of cannabis by patients next year, and will also shut down its own production, leaving supplies solely to licensed growers in the private sector.
More than 30,000 patients are legally authorized by Health Canada to use marijuana, reports Rod Nickel of Reuters. Canada back in 2001 became the first country to institute a national medical marijuana program, allowing seriously ill patients to grow and use their own medicinal cannabis.
Canada's medical marijuana program also included a government-run cultivation center in an old zinc mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba, although patients compalined the quality of that cannabis was subpar.
"There's far too much potential and actual abuse within the current scheme," claimed Staff Inspector Randy Franks of the Toronto Police Service drug squad. Franks said that police don't have access to the addresses of approved grow sites in private homes.
"These home-grown operations are able to produce far more than they need and they have to do something with it, so they sell it mainstream," Franks claimed, thoughtlessly painting all medical marijuana patients as outlaws.
The new rules became effective on Monday -- but the old rules will run concurrently until March 31, 2014, to allow the Canadian government time to license new growers, according to Jeannine Ritchot, Health Canada's director of medical marijuana regulatory reform.
Effective April 1, 2014, Health Canada will no longer grow and distribute medical marijuana, and patients will be banned from home cultivation.
Licensed cannabis growing sites will be under greater scrutiny under the new rules, with inspections, security measures and accounting of production volumes, according to the government.
The new rules are heavily tilted towards the demands of law enforcement, with very little input from actual medical marijuana patients. In effect, anti-marijuana government officials are taking from patients the right to grow their own medicine, doing so under the ruse of "protecting public health and safety" and "preventing home fires."
"While the courts have said that there must be reasonable access to a legal source of marihuana for medical purposes, we believe that this must be done in a controlled fashion in order to protect public safety," claimed Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
In the past, patients who had medical marijuana prescriptions (yes, they are actually allowed to call them "prescriptions," unlike in the United States) were given licenses to grow cannabis at home or buy it from Health Canada.
The Medical Cannabis Access Society (MCAS), a nonprofit dispensary based in Montreal, said it was concerned about patient care under the new regulations, reports Silvia Pikal at Beacon News.
MCAS said banning patients from growing their own medical marijuana restricts access for people who need the herb.
"The prohibition on storefront dispensing, personal production and derivative products will impede the reasonable access to which patients are entitled," said Adam Greenblatt, executive director at MCAS. "While some improvements have been made in this iteration of the federal medical cannabis program, there are still big holes in the regulations as proposed which will have adverse impacts on patient care.
"It is a crime policy masquerading as a health policy," Greenblatt said. "The pretext of protecting public safety is being grossly exaggerated and unfairly paints all patients as criminals."
"I'm quite worried about my future," said medical marijuana patient Heidi Hideg, a Vancouver resident who uses cannabis to treat pain from an auto accident. "I don't want to go back on prescription medication, but with changes to the [regulations], it's really up in the air."
Canada's compassion clubs buy marijuana at wholesale from growers, then resell it illegally to users, with police often turning a blind eye, Reuters reports. Their role is murky under the new plan, because the clubs tend to buy from growers who don't want to publicize their addresses, according to Jamie Shaw of the B.C. Compassion Club Society, where Hideg gets her marijuana.
Some patients will have to pay more for their medical marijuana, and they may find it hard to get the cannabis strain that works for their symptoms, according to Fonda Betts, a designated marijuana grower for two patients.
(Photo of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq: Health Canada)