Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jan 2008
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2008 The Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal - Canada)


TORONTO - Canadians who are prescribed marijuana to treat their 
illnesses will no longer be forced to rely on the federal government 
as a supplier following a Federal Court ruling that struck down a key 
restriction in Ottawa's controversial medical marijuana program.

The decision by Judge Barry Strayer, released late Thursday, 
essentially grants medical marijuana users more freedom in picking 
their own grower and allows growers to supply the drug to more than 
one patient.

It's also another blow to the federal government, whose attempts to 
tightly control access to medical marijuana have prompted numerous 
court challenges.

Currently, medical users can grow their own pot but growers can't 
supply the drug to more than one user at a time.

Lawyers for medical users argued that restriction effectively 
established Health Canada as the country's sole legal provider of 
medical marijuana.

They also said the restriction was unfair, and that it prevented 
seriously ill Canadians from obtaining the drug they needed to treat 
their debilitating illnesses.

In his decision, Strayer called the provision unconstitutional and 
arbitrary, as it "caused individuals a major difficulty with access. . ."

Ottawa must also reconsider requests made by a group of medical users 
who brought the matter to court to have a single outside supplier as 
their designated producer, Strayer said in his 23-page decision.

While the government has argued that medical users who can't grow 
their own marijuana can obtain it from its contract manufacturer, 
fewer than 20 per cent of patients actually use the government's 
supply, Strayer wrote.

"In my view it is not tenable for the government, consistently with 
the right established in other courts for qualified medical users to 
have reasonable access to marijuana, to force them either to buy from 
the government contractor, grow their own or be limited to the 
unnecessarily restrictive system of designated producers," he wrote.

Ron Marzel, a Toronto lawyer representing the group of medical users 
who brought the matter before the Federal Court, called the decision 
a "great remedy" for his clients.

"All this means is that the limit - the one-to-one ratio - it's the 
last nail in the coffin for that ratio," he said in an interview.

"The court has said, 'Look, unequivocally, this is unconstitutional, 
it's arbitrary. All the reasons you've provided us with so far for 
this one-to-one ratio, they don't pass muster. We don't buy it, we 
don't accept it.' "

The provision had been struck down by the courts before, but was 
reinstated by the government who contracted Prairie Plant Systems 
Inc. in Flin Flon, Man., to provide the drug to patients.

"(It was) constitutionally suspect from the beginning," said lawyer 
Alan Young, who argued in court on behalf of the sick.

"My position always was that if you're going to do something like 
that, you'd better have an adequate alternative."

Ottawa could either rewrite the regulations, come up with a new 
ratio, "or they can simply leave it as an open market so that people 
who are experienced and have the right secure facility will be able 
to apply to grow for 10 patients, 20 patients," Young said.

The government may also draft quality-control regulations for outside 
suppliers to ensure patients get the best product possible, said Marzel.

But he believes the Crown will appeal the decision. 
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