Health Canada is embroiled in a fierce battle to control the manufacture and distribution of marijuana in its jurisdiction. A curt press release announcing significant changes to its medical marijuana policies has set off a chain of events that could influence how other nations deal with this emerging issue. Cannabis has been shown to produce positive physiological effects in a number of circumstances, and it is gaining serious support from some big names. Despite this, many world governments remain adamant that it should be more or less withheld from the people.
The Press Release
Released on a quiet Friday afternoon, the notice that’s causing all the fuss is anything but friendly. Some have speculated that Health Canada chose the release date and time carefully so as to avoid media coverage. While they managed to stay out of the press for the most part, the release immediately went viral on social media sites. Angry, shocked and frightened patients took to whatever platform they could to express their distress.
Health Canada did not mince words, stating that as of April 1st, 2014, producing marijuana for any reason in the home would be illegal. The only legal source of the drug, the agency said, would come from licensed producers. Health Canada stressed that their primary goal was to ensure that drugs derived from cannabis are produced under strict, quality-controlled conditions. The press release makes no mention of individuals that depend on these drugs to deal with chronic pain or to mitigate the symptoms of crippling diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Nor did the agency mention the fact that these individuals can currently grow their own medicinal pot for around $1 a gram. Instead, the press release stated in no uncertain terms that these folks were to send a written statement to the government stating that they were no longer in possession of medical marijuana, or else the agency would notify police. Participants in the Marijuana Medical Access Program were ordered to dispose of plants and seeds alike. Health Canada also stated that they would “cooperate with police to protect public safety.”
Not long after Health Canada made their announcement, Judge Michael Manson, member of the Federal Court of Canada, granted an injunction to medical marijuana growers who are currently licensed. The judge stated that patients would be “irreparably harmed” by stricter regulations. Specifically, the judge rallied against shutting down home-grow operations on the 1st of April, citing the leap in cost patients would incur. The judge went on to claim that the potential suffering of the medical marijuana users in the case outweighs the risk to the public interest.
The patients who went to court to fight Health Canada’s strict decree brought John Conroy in to represent them, and represent them he did. Conroy argued that forcing the plaintiffs to choose between growing their own marijuana and buying a medicine from a pharmaceutical was tantamount to asking them to choose between liberty and death. Many of these patients depend on the plant’s medicinal properties to stave off debilitation or chronic pain. The new system that Health Canada is proposing would require them to purchase medicines from a lab, incurring all of the overhead that comes with that.
Health Canada, however, has no plans of reversing their stance. The agency has stated that it remains dedicated to eradicating small grow-ops, operations that it believes are a hazard to the public safety. Mold growth, the risk of fire and the ease at which medications derived from cannabis might enter the black market are the three chief concerns cited by the agency. In a biting statement, the agency said that it will “consider its options,” but that it wants to continue on the course that it has set for itself.
Time will tell whether the injunction sticks. The agency has stated that it intends to treat dead marijuana as a controlled substance, and this doesn’t jive with the court’s ruling that the government must provide “reasonable” access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. If the injunction fails, over 40,000 Canadian patients may have to do without their medication.
Demonstrations have sprung up in Canada in response to the April 1st deadline, most notably in Ottawa. Small groups of protesters have gathered on Parliament Hill, protesting the new regulations for curtailing their “god-given right” to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Many protesters have expressed concern that if they’re forced to purchase drugs from commercial growers, prices will rise exponentially. There are also fears that the new regulations would severely limit the amount of cannabis patients are allowed to possess at any one time. Present at the protests were patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, a disease which has been shown to respond to cannabis. Some MS patients have even enjoyed the simple pleasure of walking again because of medicines derived from the plant.
Many patients wonder, if they are forced to destroy their own stock, how they will be able to access medicinal marijuana at all. Health Canada charges up to $13.50 a gram for medical marijuana, and the cost of marijuana-derived MS drugs is much higher. For instance, a vial of Sativa costs around $120. It seems the only entity who stands to gain from the legislation is big pharma.