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Health Canada Pulls the Plug on Growing

By admin | July 29, 2011

From Cannabis Digest #29

Health Canada appears ready to make things a lot worse for medical
cannabis users.

Proposed amendments to the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations will
take away both legal options patients have to produce their own
medicine. More drug companies will be granted authority to produce
and distribute cannabis.

Some of the amendments may improve a patient’s ability to access
cannabis products but there is no guarantee that they will work. Time
will tell.

Court decisions, political pressure and complaints from stakeholders
have forced Health Canada to admit that there are serious problems
with the current situation. Unfortunately, the government has decided
to stop the only part of the program that was even coming close to
meeting the needs of patients.

Even more frustrating is the mock consultations Health Canada has announced.

When the government first announced they were beginning a public
process to accept feedback on the MMAR on Thurs June 16, it seemed
they were genuinely interested in reviewing the program to make it
work better for everyone. The next day proposed amendments were
released outlining Health Canada’s plans to stop granting patients
legal permission to grow their own medicine and open the market to
pharmaceutical companies.

It is obvious sick people are the last to have a chance to formally
comment on the problems created by the MMAR. Ironically, patient’s
needs appear to be at the bottom of the government’s list of

Last year Health Canada began holding meetings with so-called
stakeholders. Who all the stakeholders are is not clear. It is
clear that police, doctors, pharmacists, medical associations,
bureaucrats and lawyers were given ample opportunity to comment upon
problems they had with the MMAR and the measures they would like to
see for improvements. There may have been meetings with patients, but
to my knowledge the recent call for comments on the proposed
amendments is the only formal notification that Health Canada is
seeking input from license holders or the general public.

A small handful of medical dispensaries and Designated Growers were
contacted by Health Canada last year when these changes were being
considered. Meetings were held in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax.
Details are sketchy, but it seems Health Canada revealed little about
their intentions during these meetings. Officials listened to the
concerns and opinions of club operators and growers but apparently did
not say much about their agenda.

One of the participants, John Cook, founder of the Halifax chapter of
the Cannabis Buyers Clubs of Canada, recalls.” Health Canada was
looking and seemed to actually listen, not sure though, to any
suggestion/comment to improve the program. They asked our biggest
concerns with the program at that time.”

It should be noted that in the last year Health Canada has shortened
the time it takes for patients to receive their license. Last year
waiting times were months longer than the 4 to 6 weeks that Health
Canada normally allows themselves to process an application.

Though it seems almost all of the concerns raised by cannabis
activists were ignored in the first series of meetings, Health Canada
has started organizing a second round of meetings with club operators
in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. We received an email on June 22,
my 42nd birthday, inviting a single representative from our club to
attend one of these private meetings to discuss the amendments to the
MMAR. It almost felt like a gift from Steve Harper.

Of course, I have no illusions that Health Canada is actually
interested in what any cannabis activist has to say. These
bureaucrats decided their course of action long ago. The only reason
for these meetings is so Health Canada can claim to have listened to
the concerns of advocates and patients when defending the amendments
in court. Their hope is that by giving medical dispensaries an
opportunity to comment upon the proposed changes, the public will
think that clubs support the end of personal grow-ops in favour of
commercial ventures.

There is one sure way for patients, dispensaries and interested
members of the public to make it clear that the proposed MMAR
amendments are unacceptable. We need large crowds of patients and
protesters outside of the building when each these meetings are taking
place. Officials at Health Canada should not be allowed to conduct
private meetings with single individuals from different groups for the
purpose of hearing comments on the proposed amendments. Open forums
where the public can listen to advocates state their case and hear the
government’s response are not hard to organize and would give the
process a sense of transparency that is otherwise totally lacking.

Medical cannabis dispensary representatives also need to make it clear
that taking the legal right to grow your own medicine away is contrary
to the health of the patient. Many individuals with serious medical
problems still have the physical ability and financial resources to
grow their own cannabis. This healthy activity provides successful
growers with plenty of inexpensive herb, at no cost to the government,
giving patients full control over the strains they grow.

Once a grow-op is properly built, it can provide years of low-cost,
high quality medicine. Health Canada currently does nothing to help
people who have received a license to grow, no advice, no cautions, no
helpful tips, no more than a card and piece of paper for the door of
the grow room. While smaller grow-ops do not have the efficiencies of
larger operations, personal gardens give patients enormous amounts of

Other patients have partners, children or parents who are ready,
willing and able to grow this medicine for them. Compassionate
caregivers would happily comply with reasonable health and safety
regulations, if it meant they could provide this herb for their
patient. Taking the legal right to grow medicine away from patients
and their caregivers is unacceptable.

Many people who currently produce their own medicine will needlessly
suffer if Health Canada proceeds to force patients to buy their legal
medicine from drug companies through the mail. There is no way for
the government to control the price and distribute will apparently be
through the mail only, so most patients will go back to the street if
they are not able to continue to grow their own.

There is no doubt many people who have built nice facilities to supply
themselves with medicine will not cut down the plants when their
license does not get renewed. It is easy to assume the police will
visit everyone who had a license to grow cannabis. The result will be
hundreds of trials across the country where lawyers will argue whether
or not we have the right to grow our own medicine.

This appears to be part of the Conservative Party’s strategy. The
newly elected majority Conservative government does not seem concerned
about the costs about to be incurred as a result of their tough on
crime bills. They will not care how much the legal costs will be when
they try to take people’s licenses away because their agenda is to
throw everyone who grows cannabis in jail.

Mandatory minimum jail sentences of 6 months for as few as 6 plants
and 18 months for making hashish or pot cookies were close to becoming
law while the Conservatives had a minority government. Now that they
have almost full control of the Canadian government, these zealots are
prepared to throw patients in jail for defying these horrific

After years of being criticized for only having one strain available,
it appears Health Canada has started to recognize the fact that
different types of cannabis have unique effects. Advocates have known
this for years, with many patients and their caregivers developing
strains over the years that help with their specific medical
challenges. Under the new system drug companies will be able to grow
many types of cannabis, though it is not clear how many drug companies
Health Canada is prepared to license to grow or how many strains each
company is required to develop.
No one reading this article will have a chance to get one of the
contracts from Health Canada to grow. A long list of requirements to
get the contract will likely include expensive security measures,
irradiation equipment, extensive education within the executive and
laboratory experience in extracting drugs from plants. It would
surprise if more than 2 or 3 drug companies were given the opportunity
to produce cannabis. Whoever gets the program will have no trouble
growing better medicine than Prairie Plant Systems, which is one
possible positive outcome of these amendments.

Another change that could produce positive results is the plan to have
forms available with all doctors that would be simple and easy for
physicians to sign. Time will tell if this is an improvement or a
measure that will actually place another roadblock for patients to
overcome when trying to convince reluctant doctors to sign the forms.
Not being required to send information to Health Canada may make some
doctors more willing to sign the documents necessary to obtain legal
cannabis, but not many.

The most positive amendment should have been made 10 years ago when
the program was introduced. Compiling peer-reviewed scientific
literature on the medical uses of cannabis should have been a top
priority all along. Soon after establishing a minority government 5
years ago, the Conservatives cut all funding to research the medical
uses of cannabis. Meanwhile, studies on cannabis, extracts and
endo-cannabinoids are being done around the world. Until now Canadian
doctors have had to rely upon information they discovered themselves,
most often because of a patient’s inquiry.

Cannabis extracts were not mentioned in the recently announced
amendments. This means patients who prefer to use hash, honey oil,
edible or topical cannabis products face the risk of being prosecuted
for production of an illegal drug. Cannabis resin, THC, CBD and CBN
are all listed as separate drugs in the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act.

Perhaps nothing highlights Health Canada’s real intentions more than
the exclusion of these extracts from the MMAR. While they allow drug
companies to profit selling synthetic THC at $8 per pill, Health
Canada seems content to allow the criminal justice system to punish
patients who have learned to manage their symptoms by eating or
topically applying cannabis butters and vegetable oils.

Eating properly made cannabis products can dramatically control a wide
range of medical symptoms. By selling edible and topical cannabis
products at the lowest price possible, the Cannabis Buyers Clubs of
Canada has helped hundreds of patients cut down or eliminate
prescription drug use and improve their health. Seeing is truly
believing, and after over 15 years of selling cannabis medicines, I am
firmly convinced of the extraordinary healing powers of this plant.

I also understand the power of greed. Pharmaceutical companies are
threatened by the existence of cannabis because they have developed
drugs according to an expensive process of regulation and testing and
the widespread use of a herb people could grow in their backyard could
seriously affect their bottom line. Medical marijuana grown in
greenhousess and cooked in kitchens around the world would have a
massive impact upon prescription drug use rates.

That is why the pharmaceutical industry wants Health Canada to open
the legal market for large-scale production by eliminating personal
and small-scale producers. If cannabis is going to be legally
available as a medicine, you can bet these drug companies want as much
control as possible, especially if sales in other drugs could plummet.

Ultimately, not only are these amendments flawed and the MMAR
dysfunctional, but the prohibition of cannabis outright is the main
problem we face. So long as recreational users are punished for
growing or using this plant, there will be massive problems with the
distribution of cannabis as medicine.

Though Health Canada is only asking for comments on the proposed
amendments, I believe cannabis advocates should take every opportunity
to inform government officials about the broad failure of cannabis
prohibition and its impacts upon the distribution of this herb as

Since the use of cannabis as medicine has become firmly established,
the issue of how it is to be produced and distributed is what is
really being fought over here.

Medical cannabis dispensaries currently act as illegal sanctuaries for
victims of the drug war. Raids across the country in 2010 seem to
indicate the RCMP, Public Prosecution Services of Canada, Department
of Justice, Health Canada and politicians are ready to test the
validity of these clubs. Many of these clubs facing trials, including
the CBC of C, have been invited to discuss these proposed amendments,
even though there are no provisions that would allow us to operate.
Indeed, these amendments seem designed to prepare the public to shut
down all medical cannabis dispensaries across the country in favour of
mail-order, irradiated herb grown for-profit by large corporations.

It is unlikely the government Canada will change any of its plans
because of what we say in these behind-closed-doors meetings, as Leona
Aglukkaq, Canada’s Health Minister has already made it clear it is
their intention to shut down personal medical grow-ops.

The introduction of these amendments makes it difficult for the
government to argue that the MMAR is working and that compassion clubs
are not justified in operating under the circumstances. If anything,
these amendments are confirmation that clubs are needed at least until
the government establishing a working model. Of course the best
working model would include locally controlled facilities that are
subsidized by recreational users, but the courts cannot seem to force
the government to do that.

Courts can throw out charges against medical cannabis providers,
though, which is exactly what they have consistently done for over 10
years when a proper defence has been mounted.
This is exactly what we predict will happen on Jan 16, 2012, when the
20-day jury trial of Owen Smith will begin. Owen was making edible
and topical products for the Cannabis Buyers Clubs of Canada when the
police came to the door of a downtown Victoria apartment in Dec, 2009.
Lawyer Kirk Tousaw will argue that the charges of possession of THC
for the purposes of trafficking should not only be dropped because the
MMAR is unconstitutional, but that the prohibition of cannabis in
general should be struck down due to the continued failure of our
government to create a functional medical cannabis program.

Everyone concerned about these issues should read the proposed
amendments themselves and send their comments to Health Canada. It is
my hope that their will be many protests organized by local,
grassroots activists connected to dispensaries and head shops in the 3
cities these private meetings are being held. Patients holding on to
their plants outside the doors of these behind-closed-doors meetings
would give the media and public a perfect visual picture. After all,
it is just a plant

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