In our March 20 issue I have an article about the looming crisis in the medical marijuana community as the Harper government, though Health Canada, prepares to revamp the process for people acquiring cannabis to treat their ailments. This is always done under the care of a doctor, and usually after all other therapies and prescription drugs have proven ineffective.
Under the old regs (Medical Marihuana Access Regulations) patients had the option of purchasing from Health Canada, growing their own, or obtaining their medicine from small-scale growers with ties to the medical marijuana community. Under the new regs (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) licensed users would be restricted to purchasing their medicine from large-scale commercial growers.
The switch was to occur on April 1, and was prompted, Health Canada claimed, by reports of the MMAR being abused by licensees who grew in unsafe conditions, or were over-producing for the black market. The changes were not supported in the medical marijuana community for several reasons: to begin with, only a handful of new growers have been licensed under the MMPR, and with the deadline for the switch looming supply shortages seemed inevitable.
If we were talking about recreational users, that wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal. But the 40,000 or so Canadians who are licensed to use cannabis for medical purposes rely on the herb to alleviate pain and suffering and they were naturally anxious about weathering the transition period. Concern also existed about the quality of cannabis that the commercial growers would supply, and the availability of different strains to treat different ailments. Finally, the price was quite a bit higher under the MMPR than the MMAP — up to $8.50 a gram compared to roughly $2 a gram when people grew their own.
The financial hardship was further compounded by Health Canada’s dictate that come April 1, all licensed users and growers had to destroy their existing supply of legally acquired cannabis/plants without compensation. Since many medical cannabis users are on disability this would have caused real harm to their economic well-being.
As I recount in the March 20 article, Vancouver lawyer John Conroy appeared in Federal Court on March 18 to argue that the MMPR constituted a violation of patients’ s. 7 Charter rights related to liberty and security of person and that an interim injunction should be granted to delay the change until the constitutional validity of the MMPR could be determined. Today, the judge hearing the case granted the injunction. Any new patients applying to use cannabis for medical purposes will be governed by the MMPR, but existing MMAP licensees will be grandfathered and continue to operate under the old regs until a trial can be held in the fall to determine if the MMPR is, in fact, constitutional.
You can read more on the judgment in this CBC report. And while it certainly is welcome, it must be pointed out that, in anticipation of the impending changes on April 1, and in the face of two acts of harassment by Health Canada in the last five months, many licensees have already taken steps to destroy their cannabis and cannabis plants. As well, all have suffered needless stress and anxiety as they worried about what the future would hold for them. So all in all, a pretty poor show by Health Canada and the Harper government.