Pubdate: Thu, 25 Jul 2013
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 The London Free Press
Author: Jonathan Sher
Page: A2


Healthcare: Users now able to grow their own drug fear higher costs 
under looming newfederal crackdown will force them to buy their 
marijuana on the street

Londoner Michael Barron doesn't want to become a criminal, but says he
has no choice.

He may well be the face of a problem coming as the deadline nears for
a crackdown on who's allowed to produce medicinal marijuana in Canada.

For six years, Barron has depended upon medical marijuana prescribed
by his doctor to take the edge off the pain from a variety of chronic
ailments such as neuropathic pain syndrome.

But starting Oct. 1, Health Canada is making changes that will drive
up the cost of the drug into the stratosphere - Barron would have to
pay $3,390 for a month's supply, more than triple his only source of
income, an Ontario disability payment.

That will leave Barron turning to street dealers - and he could very
well be one of thousands, as the scramble begins by medical marijuana
users suddenly facing the tougher new federal rules.

"I'm being made to feel like a criminal because I will have to go to
the street to buy my medicine," said Barron, who didn't want to use
his real last name because his family gets upset by the attention.

He won't be alone. Health Canada estimates it has approved medical
marijuana use for 30,000 Canadians and the number has grown at such a
pace the agency predicts there could be 50,000 by next year.

Until now, most of those users grew marijuana themselves or found
someone who would do it for them, often in a home with little
overhead. They could even buy the drug through Health Canada for a
subsidized rate of $5 a gram.

But that regime is being phased out - starting Oct. 1, no one new will
be able to grow medical marijuana for themselves or someone else and
starting next April only licensed and heavily regulated commercial
producers will be allowed to grow the stuff.

Health Canada predicts the changes will cause the price of medical
marijuana to rise quickly, with users having to pay an extra $1.66
billion over 10 years.

"They'll all go back to the street," said Aaron Bott, president of a
group that had been helping medical marijuana users find the drug at
lower costs, Mobile Access Compassionate Resources Organization
Society in Edmonton.

"(Health Canada is) giving it back to the underground cartels who
aren't scared to keep growing."

While marijuana is generally an illegal drug to grow and sell in
Canada, courts here have carved out an exception for medical use,
saying such users need access.

Those court rulings led Health Canada to create a system that it's now
phasing out, one that let patients or people they designate grow
marijuana in their homes.

"Growth in program participation has had unintended consequences for
the administration of the (program), but more importantly, for public
health, safety and security," Health Canada wrote in explaining the
need for new regulations.

"Municipalities and first responders, such as fire and police
officials, have raised serious public health and safety concerns
regarding production of marijuana in private dwellings," Health Canada

As of Oct. 1, Health Canada will no longer accept new applications to
produce in homes. On April 1, 2014, the old program will be over and
users will only be able to get marijuana from a licensed, commercial

It remains to be seen how many people or companies will seek a licence
or how many will be approved, an issue that would affect the supply of
medical marijuana and its price.

Not everyone will lose with the new scheme. Health Canada says it will
save money not having to process applications and that the new,
licensed producers will see extra dough, too.

"(There will be benefits) to producers due to a higher market price
and a reduction in economic inefficiency from the removal of current
government subsidies on marijuana sold by Health Canada," the agency
wrote in an analysis of the costs and benefits of the new program.

- ---------------------------------------------



Doctors write prescriptions for marijuana for patients who aren't
helped with standard treatments.

Patients seek approval from Health Canada. Decisions take about 10

Approved patients can grow marijuana, designate someone without a
criminal drug conviction the past 10 years to grow it for them, or pay
Health Canada $5 a gram for marijuana grown for the regulator.


Patients won't be allowed to grow marijuana themselves, designate
someone to do so or buy it through Health Canada.

Health Canada will license growers who must produce it in commercial
facilities with documented security and record keeping and notify
local authorities of the production. All key people in the operation
must obtain security clearance. Marijuana must be chemically tested,
properly stored and shipped in a package that is sealed and tracked.


30,000: Canadians who have the OK to use medical marijuana

50,000: Those expected to be approved for use by 2014 given the
program's growth

$1.6 billion: How much extra medical marijuana users will have to pay
over 10 years when the new, more restrictive regime takes effect

$5/gram: Subsidized price Health Canada now charges for medical
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt