Pubdate: Thu, 20 Dec 2012
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Ian Mulgrew


The federal government has ignited a great debate with its recently
announced plans to overhaul the 13-year-old medical marijuana program
because it is far too popular.

The numbers and the burgeoning size of the legal pot market are so
staggering Ottawa is trying to slow it down and at the same time
eliminate home growing.

If registration continues apace, Health Canada estimates that by 2014,
more than 50,000 people will be authorized to legally possess pot for
their ills.

Without the proposed changes, that number was projected to skyrocket
to a whopping 433,688 in 10 years and the cost of running the program
to balloon over the same period from $20.63 million to $120 million in

No one expected this in 1999 when the federal government established
the program to meet the constitutionally valid demands for legal
access to pot from those dying or struggling with severely
debilitating ailments.

Ottawa expected a few hundred participants at most - only 477 were
enrolled by 2002. But thousands have signed up since and there are
roughly 25,000 today.

"While the absolute number of legal users is still expected to
increase over time," Health Canada said in announcing its new model
Friday, "this increase was projected to be approximately 30 per cent
less over the 10-year period under the proposed (program) compared to
the status quo scenario ... to approximately 308,755 users by the end of
the 10th year of implementation."

The department added that the new model would generate about $150
million a year in benefits from reduced administrative costs, end the
subsidy on government-produced marijuana, mean fewer fire and security
risks and higher prices for producers.

Ottawa, which collected $1,686,600 from dried marijuana and seed sales
in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, heavily subsidizes medical pot by
covering the shipping costs and charging only $5 a gram - less than it
costs to grow and distribute the drug.

But patients will take the hit if these changes occur.

It will cost them an additional $166 million a year as the price of
legal pot increases to more than $8 a gram.

(The street value of the drug is pegged at between $10 and $15 a

Since Friday's announcement, the proposals have been under attack by
those already in the program and their advocates.

"I think that with some 65 per cent of current participants growing
their own, and a clear projection that this system will increase
patient costs considerably, Health Canada is making a huge error not
allowing continued personal production," said Vancouver Island lawyer
Kirk Tousaw.

Another activist, Philippe Lucas, co-founder of Canadians for Safe
Access, added: "Patients are the primary stakeholders and their rights
and needs can't be ignored."

The presently illegal compassion clubs and dispensaries, on which many
patients rely, are equally angry at being shut out of the regulatory
scheme and left in an uncomfortable limbo that puts them at the mercy
of police good will and judicial reluctance to convict their operators.

There is already talk of legal action to prevent the March 31, 2014
implementation of the proposals.

In spite of the clamour, though, I would be surprised if the
government is receptive to modifying its plans.

Ottawa insists the current system is open to abuse, supplies the black
market and has permitted thousands of marijuana growing operations in
residential neighbourhoods, increasing fire risks and other dangers.

"We have heard real concerns from law enforcement, fire officials, and
municipalities about how people are hiding behind these rules to
conduct illegal activity, and putting health and safety of Canadians
at risk," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said at the Vancouver news
conference unveiling the proposals.

Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu applauded the measures on behalf of his
colleagues across the country.

Municipalities and fire departments are also glad the Conservative
administration is addressing the uncontrolled growing operations.

The new model allows possession of dried marijuana only for those with
the support of an authorized health care practitioner; growing is
restricted to licensed producers while the sale and distribution will
be carried out by specific regulated parties. There would be no more
home growing.

Licensed producers would be forced to meet standards for security;
good production practices; packaging, labelling and shipping; record
keeping and reporting; and distribution. They would also be subject to

The government is listening to feedback until the end of February: 
It's already getting an earful.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D