Pubdate: Thu, 09 Jul 2015
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts
Page: A4


Users laud sale of oil, fresh buds, but remain critical of red tape

Health Canada announced changes to medical-marijuana regulations 
Wednesday allowing the sale of oil and fresh buds where previously 
only dried pot for smoking was legal.

Medical-marijuana users and their advocates welcomed the changes, but 
remain critical of a system they say is too complex and involves too 
much red tape.

Kirk Tousaw, a Duncan-based lawyer with years of experience 
advocating on behalf of medical-marijuana users, said the rules are 
still top-heavy and bureaucratic.

"I call it a small step forward," Tousaw said. "But unfortunately, it 
still leaves a lot to be desired."

Health Canada said licensed producers can now sell extracts such as 
cannabis oils, used to make things like cookies, as well as fresh 
marijuana buds and leaves. They must follow the same packaging and 
labelling requirements as for dried marijuana.

It's a swift response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last month 
that struck down as unconstitutional regulations that previously made 
illegal forms such as cannabis oils, extracts or edibles like cookies.

But Health Minister Rona Ambrose suggested the government acted only 
because it was forced to do so by the court.

"[Health Canada] will implement what the Supreme Court has said," 
Ambrose said at an unrelated event in Edmonton. "But their first, 
top-of-line message is, 'Marijuana is not a medicine.'

"It's important that Canadians understand that marijuana is not an 
approved drug in Canada or an approved medicine."

In June, the nation's top court ruled existing regulations 
restricting medical-marijuana possession to dried pot violated the 
Charter of Rights in part because anyone possessing other forms of 
cannabis was at risk of going to jail.

Since ways of using dried pot are limited, users were forced to 
choose a treatment that might be less effective or even dangerous to 
comply with the law.

The ruling created confusion, however, as to whether it gave people 
the right to sell products made from marijuana, such as butters or brownies.

The new regulations allow licensed producers to sell cannabis oil or 
fresh leaves or buds. But they can't turn it into other products, 
such as lotions, butters or baked goods.

The new regulations do, however, allow authorized medical-marijuana 
patients to take the oil or fresh buds home and make their own 
brownies or other products. Previously, that was forbidden.

Greg Engel, head of Tilray, a licensed producer in Nanaimo, welcomed 
the change.

"It's great news," said Engel, adding his company is now consulting 
with Health Canada and hopes to soon be producing cannabis oil.

James Whitehead, owner of Gorge Cannabis Dispensary, said the 
regulation changes will make it easier for patients who use medical 
marijuana in edible forms, such as cookies.

Whitehead said many people, especially those with reduced lung 
function, can't smoke marijuana, so the dried substance is of little 
use to them.

One problem, however, is that the handful of licensed producers in 
Canada have not been able to keep up with demand or the various forms 
demanded by users, he said.

So cannabis dispensaries such as Whitehead's, along with compassion 
clubs, have sprung up to fill the void, including 11 in Victoria at a 
recent count.

But Health Canada repeated in its directive Wednesday that these 
dispensaries are still considered illegal.

Nevertheless, last month, Vancouver became the first Canadian 
municipality to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. They pay a 
$30,000 licensing fee and must locate 300 metres away from community 
centres or schools.

Victoria council has indicated it is interested in following Vancouver's lead.

Meanwhile, Tousaw, a lawyer whose arguments at the Supreme Court of 
Canada helped lead to the latest ruling, said all the rules and 
regulations are just foolish.

He said if the government were serious about allowing patients access 
to medical marijuana and abiding by the spirit of the Supreme Court 
of Canada decisions, it would decriminalize pot, which could then be 
sold with warnings and quality controls.

"When will the government simply drop its heavy-handed regulatory 
approach and let the market figure this out?" Tousaw asked.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom