Home grown medical marijuana will be a thing of the past under new regulations ushered in by the federal government last month.
The Marihuana For Medical Purposes Regulations came into effect last month replacing Health Canada’s Marihuana for Medical Purposes Program introduced in 2001, but both regimes will be used until April 1, 2014, to allow for a transition. “Marihuana” is how the government spells the drug in its legislation.
According to a press release on Health Canada’s website, the new regulations aim “to treat marihuana as much as possible like any other narcotic used for medical purposes” and to create “conditions for a new, commercial industry responsible for its production and distribution”.
The rules allowing medicinal cannabis to be grown in private dwellings will expire March 31, 2014, replaced by “Licensed Commercial Producers.” The Licensed Producers will operate secure facilities outside of residential areas and courier their product to users and health practitioners. Health Canada will also end its own production and distribution next March.
With the new rules patients will no longer have to apply to Health Canada directly because doctors and nurses can fill out an abbreviated application form. Patients then show this form to Licensed Producers or obtain dried marijuana from doctors or nurses, who are now allowed to dispense the drug directly.
Health Canada currently distributes medical marijuana for a subsidized price of $5/g, according to a cost-benefit analysis it released in December, 2012. The analysis estimates the cost of homegrown cannabis at $1.80/g-$2.80/g. The estimated cost under the new system is $8.80/g, plus shipping, but the market will ultimately set prices. That’s more than a four-fold increase for users who grow themselves.
Reaction to Regs
The BC Compassion Club Society was quick to respond to the new regulations. The Society distributes marijuana to medical users only. It does so illegally, but police have typically turned a blind eye.
The Society, which was consulted by the federal government in drafting the new rules, submitted a number of recommendations to Health Canada earlier this year. One recommendation was to keep personal grow licenses which drastically reduce the cost for patients, “many of whom are already burdened by extensive medical expenses” the Society wrote.
John Conroy, a BC criminal lawyer with 40 years experience in medicinal marijuana cases, said 60-70 per cent of people who apply for medical marijuana are poor.
Conroy is working on a constitutional challenge to the new rules. He says the new rules violate the constitutional rights of marijuana-using patients who will no longer be allowed to grow at home or buy from a home-growing supplier.
“If you have a contained unit, specially built and safe…if you’ve had it inspected and there’s some limits on numbers—instead of saying not at all—that would be reasonable.”
Those who complied with the old rules and invested in equipment and labour to produce their own cannabis are not being compensated under the new rules.
Conroy will challenge the restriction of medical marijuana to only the dried bud. The BC Supreme Court found the restriction unconstitutional last year and acknowledged the safe use of cannabis derivatives like salves and juice, which do not produce a “high.” The court gave the government one year to change the law. The government hasn’t complied.
Don Skogstad, a criminal lawyer in Nelson specializing in marijuana cases, says the continued limitation to cannabis derivatives is a deliberate oversight on the government’s part.
“The government claims that when [marijuana] is put into these derivatives, the THC is hidden. But I’m not aware of anybody who can get the THC back out of the derivative and use it for recreation any more. It’s an ideological decision.”
Jamie Shaw, director of communications for the BCCCS, says the limitation on dried marijuana is irrational and impractical.
“We have patients who are physically incapable of smoking.”
Shaw points out that patients in hospitals will be able to access the drug, but have no way of consuming it.
“You can’t bake it into cookies because you’re in a hospital, and you’re not allowed to smoke.”
Shaw, Skogstad and Conroy independently agreed the new rules don’t create an effective market structure. All three pointed to US dispensary models, where community-based centres can dispense the drug. Licensed Producers, on the other hand, will be limited to secure couriers and healthcare professionals willing to keep a stock. Skogstad points out that Licensed Producers will require a big capital investment and “without a dispensary or even just a pharmacy you could develop a relationship with, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your product to market.”
Skogstad also wonders if compassion clubs will survive the new regulations.
“If you’re [a Licensed Producer and] going to spend $2-million … are you not going to go to the government next April 1st and ask, ‘How do you allow these people to compete with me? How do you expect my business to grow?’”
Skogstad says for now tolerance by the local police force, usually non-RCMP, allow the clubs to operate.
The Valley RCMP detachment under Sgt. Darren Woroshelo couldn’t be reached for comment, despite multiple phone calls and over a week to respond.
In addition to substantially raised costs, medicinal cannabis users in the Valley may have to travel further to access it.
Standard practise for shipping controlled substances via courier is to get a signature upon delivery. If nobody is there to sign, it gets sent to the closest terminal. Since Valley mail is delivered to post boxes, the closest terminal is either Kamloops or Prince George. Puralator, for example, doesn’t have an agent in the Valley qualified to hold packages of controlled substances. Their closest terminal is in Kamloops. Canada Post is the only local option for obtaining orders through secure courier.
The Goat interviewed a number of local users and growers, all of which requested to be anonymous citing concerns around possible thefts from their homes and fear of social stigma.
One Valley residents lives in the neighbourhood of a grow-op and is overwhelmed with the odour. The smell gets everywhere in her house and car.
“I don’t care if it’s legal or not, as long as it doesn’t affect me or my family.”
She’s been asking local government, along with some neighbours, to have a bylaw implemented.
Another local became a grower when his wife fell ill with terminal cancer in order to be her caregiver. After months of painkiller cocktails and liquid morphine, he started baking her cookies, which were more effective and improved her appetite. He suffers from MS but doesn’t experience enough pain to warrant medication. Should the time come though, he would turn to edible cannabis products.
“I wouldn’t buy any of the government controlled stuff, but good, strong home grown that works.”
A different local has been legally growing for about five years and said he’ll comply with the new rules, but doesn’t know what he’ll do for pain management. Compassion clubs are expensive and the government doesn’t know how to grow good product, he said.
“It’s trash. It may as well be ragweed from Mexico.”
Another local who uses medical marijuana legally for pain relief has switched from compassion clubs to Health Canada, which is subsidized up to 50 per cent. After March 31 he’ll have to find a Licensed Producer at a higher cost, however, and pay shipping fees.
He says going down the illegal route is not an option for him, out of consideration for his family.
Check next week’s Goat for a follow-up story on the social stigma surrounding users and how the government thinks the new regulations will make communities safer.
For BCCCS reaction to the new regulations, including recommendations, click here.
For Health Canada’s press releases on the new regulations, click here.
For Health Canada’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, including a cost-benefit analysis, click here.