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Mulgrew: Ottawa drags out medical pot reform

By admin | June 12, 2012

Mulgrew: Ottawa drags out medical pot reform

The federal government’s plan to revamp Canada’s medical marijuana program and address court-raised constitutional concerns seems half-baked.

The proposed changes ignore a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling and do little to properly address some of the most contentious issues.

In particular, Ottawa intends to continue to permit only dried marijuana to be produced, sold and distributed to medical patients who will use a new document issued by doctors to buy pot from commercial producers.

That decision flies in the face of Justice Robert Johnson’s ruling in April that patients could make cannabis-infused oils, drink it in their tea or bake it into brownies and cookies, not just smoke it.

He said the present restriction was unconstitutional and gave Health Canada a year to fix that aspect of the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, as they are legally known.

Kirk Tousaw, the lawyer in the case, said he was surprised Ottawa appears to be ignoring the judge’s opinion.

“The charter says one thing, the judge cites the charter and the government is saying it doesn’t care?” he asked.

“I’m thinking of going back in front of the judge and saying, ‘Look, they have no intention of adhering to your ruling.’ It is disturbing, to say the least, that Health Canada appears to have given the decision … no regard whatsoever. When will the government of Canada begin to respect the charter, the rights of patients and the decisions of the B.C. Supreme Court?”  

How about just a little common sense: Why would we force people to smoke pot if they can take their medicine in a candy bar or a drink?

Still, we do need new rules.

Sick people, doctors and municipalities across the country have long been unhappy with the decade-old regime and Health Canada solicited feedback from last June through November.

In Tousaw’s view, however, the government’s report on the consultation process and its plans was woefully inadequate, especially in light of the recent rulings.

The core of the redesigned program is a new, simplified process for patients.

Instead of applying to the government for an exemption to the criminal law to possess marijuana, patients will require only a still-to-be-designed document issued by their doctor.

They would no longer carry a government-issued exemption card to prove they could legally possess and use the banned plant.

Primarily, though, Ottawa is moving to create a medical marijuana production industry to replace the thousands of individual growing operations that have proliferated across the country and the single authorized producer.

Under the current program, patients are forced to buy pot produced by the government-approved supplier, grow their own or designate someone to grow it for them.

A chorus of local politicians, along with fire and police chiefs, has been sending up a refrain that the situation is an unregulated nightmare that puts families and neighbourhoods at risk.

As a result, Ottawa wants to phase out the personal and designated growers and replace them with businesses that are regularly audited and inspected.

The new document issued by doctors will permit patients to buy pot from those approved commercial producers via bonded courier or mail.

(Only indoor marijuana production will be allowed.)

Yet many patients across the country made passionate submissions to the government that they be allowed to maintain personal exemptions to grow cannabis.

They fear the privatization of pot production will push the price of their medication out of reach.

The report also paints an incomplete picture of the widespread support for licensing compassion clubs.

“From reading it, one would assume that the only support for compassion club or other storefront distribution comes from impliedly self-interested clubs,” Tousaw said. “But many patient advocacy groups, patients and even some businesses looking for commercial licensing to grow medicinal cannabis support a retail distribution model.”

The government hopes to finalize the new regulations next year and consider further public input at that point.

There’s lots of room for improvement.

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