Pubdate: Mon, 11 Feb 2013
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 The Toronto Star
Authors: Richard Elliott and Ryan Peck
Note: Richard Elliott is the executive director of the Canadian 
HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Ryan Peck is the executive director of the 
HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, both of which jointly intervened in 
the Ontario court case.


Court Ruling and Government Policy Fail to Fix Systemic Problems.

More than a decade ago, after several court rulings, the federal 
government was forced to create regulations allowing people with 
legitimate needs to possess or grow cannabis for personal medical use 
without facing criminal charges.

Yet it seems Canadians will have to wait longer for a truly workable 
system that ensures access. Unfortunately, in a ruling issued Feb. 1, 
the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected the latest constitutional 
challenge to the current marijuana medical access regulations (MMAR).

There is an ongoing chill surrounding physicians who might consider 
providing the medical declaration that is a required part of a 
patient's application to Health Canada for permission to possess or 
produce cannabis for personal medical purposes.

Some provincial regulatory authorities have actively discouraged 
physicians from providing this service to patients, some to the point 
of stating clearly that physicians should not support a patient's application.

Statements by the association providing liability insurance for most 
of the country's practising physicians recommend having the patient 
sign an extra form releasing the physician from any liability. All of 
this leaves some physicians wondering whether it's worth the risk to 
help patients.

In its most recent ruling the court was unwilling, at least on the 
evidence presented in the case before it, to address this real 
barrier in the current system. (The door may still be open to another 
case with more substantial evidence about the challenge of access to 
knowledgeable and willing physicians.)

Sadly, the court also seems to have mischaracterized the position of 
public interest groups appearing before it, and therefore failed to 
consider the constructive proposal we put forward to remedy this problem.

The court suggested incorrectly that we wanted to eliminate the 
medical opinion requirement altogether. Rather, we argued if the 
government is going to require medical declarations to avoid criminal 
prosecution, patients unable to find a doctor willing to sign one 
must be guaranteed access to a body of medical experts who can decide 
the merits of a patient's application.

Seriously ill people shouldn't have to risk going to prison in order 
to get the medicine they need.

Meanwhile, the federal government has proposed new regulations on 
access to cannabis for medical purposes - but these proposals still 
won't address this problem.

We can't forget the underlying problem: the federal government 
maintains an overall prohibition on possession of cannabis for 
personal use. If the government won't decriminalize, then it has an 
obligation to ensure that the threat of criminal prosecution doesn't 
impede access for medical purposes.

It's unacceptable to criminalize cannabis, set up a faulty system for 
people seeking exemptions from criminal liability to use cannabis as 
medicine, and then try to avoid any responsibility for the barriers 
created by that system.

It calls to mind other examples of the government's indifference to 
the plight of people who need access to medicines.

Two months ago, just in time for World AIDS Day, the federal 
government killed a law that would make it easier for Canadian 
companies to sell lower-cost, generic AIDS drugs and other medicines 
to millions of people in developing countries.

Meanwhile, the government is negotiating new trade agreements - the 
Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the 
Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (TPP)Trans-Pacific Partnership 
trade deal (TPP) - that will very likely impose even more stringent 
obstacles to affordable medicines, not only for developing countries 
but for Canadians as well.

And now we have this latest chapter in the government's ongoing 
battle over cannabis that helps people treat and manage serious illnesses.

What has the federal government got against sick people in need of medicine?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom