The federal Liberals recently unveiled new medical marijuana regulations, in order to meet guidelines set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. With the legalization of recreational cannabis, and likely new ways of handling medical cannabis, forthcoming in the new year, these regulatory changes offer clues as to the direction the federal government is heading. Worryingly, all signs suggest that the new rules will not benefit medical cannabis patients.
While the new system, known as the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR), allows patients to grow their own plants, it makes it clear that all dispensaries and compassion clubs are illegal, despite the fact that they have a long history of helping patients access their medicine. The new rules also impose a complicated formula for determining the number of plants patients are allowed to grow on their own, and perpetuates the special status afforded to Canada’s 34 licensed producers (LPs), by ensuring that they are the only legal source of young plants and seeds.
The federal government has a history of making the system as difficult and as slow as possible for cannabis patients; I am thus not very optimistic that the new application, which seems to require limited registration with police, which will need to be reviewed in full by all the medical professionals involved with a particular patient, will allow people the freedom to grow their own medicine, as the Supreme Court has said is their right.
Adding to the notorious red tape, the new system is vulnerable to abuse by LPs. Indeed, it didn’t take long for Canada’s largest LP, Canopy Growth Corp., to respond to the new framework. In a press release sent out hours after the new federal regulations were announced, Canopy charged that they were “a setback for the advancement of sound cannabis policy and Canada’s global leadership in cannabis regulation.”
No doubt reluctant to release any part of the growing process to the public, Canopy Growth — which boasts more than half of the country’s legally registered cannabis patients — insisted that its customers will not be allowed to grow its plants in their homes. Its new program, Home grow without your home, promises to provide seeds, training and rental equipment, but, by taking advantage of the clause that allows patients to designate an alternate grower, will force its clients to grow plants in one of its facilities. In other words, the largest licensed producer in Canada is already using its power to hold patients hostage, refusing to allow them to grow their own plants, in their own homes.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the new regulations is that they specifically disallow dispensaries and compassion clubs, even in places where municipal bylaws allow them, as in Vancouver. Even before cannabis’s medical properties were recognized by the courts, compassion clubs were engaging in community education and support services to prospective and current patients, and helping people navigate the challenges of obtaining what was then an illegal, but effective, medicine. Run by folks who suffer from ailments that can be treated with cannabis — like epilepsy, cancer and gastrointestinal disorders — they helped patients figure out how best to take their medication, how much to take and when. Not only have compassion clubs served to support patients during the legalization battle, they continue to be trusted by a majority of patients across Canada.
Although compassion clubs could be more transparent about how they obtain their medical cannabis, having the ability to shop in a brick-and-mortar store, and ask questions from people who are knowledgeable about their products, is of great benefit to many patients. Unlike other medications, different varieties of cannabis, taken in a variety of concentrations, can have different effects on a patient. Moreover, as the medicine is found in the fuzzy, sticky little hairs on top of the cannabis flower, it sometimes helps to check the quality of the product before purchasing it, as people regularly do with other produce. Indeed, as I found out soon after becoming a patient six months ago, shopping for the best quality medicine that works for one’s specific body chemistry can be a challenge.
By making it clear that dispensaries and compassion clubs are altogether unwelcome on the Canadian landscape, and by assigning the sole responsibility of providing for home growers to the current LPs, alongside a challenging applications process, the Liberal government has established a system through which it can say it complies with the court’s decision, without actually doing the hard work of creating regulations that increase access to medication for patients who need it.
While the Liberals were elected on the promise of legalizing cannabis, it seems instead that they’ve ripped the new regulations straight from the policy book of the former Conservative government.
Peter Thurley, a Kitchener, Ont.-based writer and communications consultant, was diagnosed with desmoid fibromatosis in 2015 and uses cannabis for nerve pain resulting from the surgical removal of a 11-kilo abdominal tumour.