Pubdate: Thu, 25 Feb 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Author: Debora Van Brenk
Page: A1

Medical Marijuana


A law that bars medicinal marijuana users from growing their own pot 
has been snuffed out.

The head-spinning court ruling - following laws that disallowed, then 
allowed and then again banned homegrown - came as welcome news to 
tens of thousands of patients who legally use pot for relief of 
chronic pain and disease symptoms. And at least one in the budding 
industry of licensed producers says he's pleased the Vancouver judge 
has struck down regulations brought in by the federal Conservatives.

The current rules that require people to get a prescription to buy 
only from licensed growers will remain in place for at least six 
months until the Liberals can come up with new ones. "The 
overwhelming consensus is that people don't want it turned over to 
big pharmacy. They want to grow their own," said Londoner Jeff Oakes, 
who uses marijuana medicinally. He has tried other medicines, 
including potent and potentially addictive ones, to control the 
symptoms and pain of colitis but said only pot works.

"It has literally saved my life," he said.

A staffer at the Organic Traveller store in London, Oakes said 
customers tell him they pay $12 to $16 a gram for approved, 
greenhouse-grown, poor-quality marijuana, when the street value of 
homegrown is $10 a gram or less.

If people have the capability of producing their own medicine, and 
more cheaply, he said, "Why, in a free and democratic society, can't 
we do that?" As many as 40,000 Canadians have prescriptions for 
medicinal marijuana.

The estimate is the industry has potential to grow tenfold in 10 
years, said George Smitherman, a former Ontario cabinet minister who 
now is a partner in Alta Vista Ventures. The company has a letter of 
intent to buy a licensed Niagara marijuana producer, plans to develop 
a producer in Burlington and is looking at buying an operation in London.

"I think, in the long term, this (ruling) is terrific," Smitherman 
said, likening the market to giving people a choice of making their 
own wine or buying it from a producer with expertise in the field. He 
said the industry needs "clear and consistent regulation," in place 
of the current patchwork of Canadian rules. "The people who have a 
right to use medical marijuana should have a right to grow it on 
their own," and those who grow and dispense medicinal marijuana 
should have the opportunity to do so with coherent rules that replace 
the current inconsistent ones, he said. Ronan Levy, who operates 10 
Canadian Cannabis Clinics in Ontario, including one in London, said 
he was surprised by the ruling.

"Millions (of dollars) if not billions, have been invested in this," 
Levy said. He said "an entire industry" has been built around a 
political decision to require patients to buy from licensed 
producers. Homegrown can lead to quality and safety problems, an 
issue the rules did "a decent job" of managing, he said.

Ultimately, though, the clinics support whatever is in the best 
interests of patients and Canadians in general, Levy said.

"I think there's a collective sense that cannabis for medical 
purposes is just starting to be understood." Federal Court Judge 
Michael Phelan ruled that the Marijuana for Medical Purposes 
Regulations violated the Charter rights of patients by making them 
buy only from licensed producers.

As he suspended for six months the decision to strike down the law, 
he also extended a court injunction that allowed people to continue 
to grow their own if they already held licences.

"Accepting that fire, mould, diversion, theft and violence are risks 
that inherently exist to a certain degree - although I note that 
these risks were not detailed - this significant restriction punishes 
those who are able to safely produce by abiding with local laws and 
taking simple precaution to reduce such risk," Phelan said.

Health Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling took place the same day that the Liberals opened a Senate 
Liberal caucus meeting on regulating and legalizing recreational marijuana.

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, now an MP, said the current 
approach to recreational marijuana use is failing and the government 
will need to eye public health implications as it moves to give pot 
the legal green light. He has been tapped by the Trudeau government 
to take a leading role on the file, working closely with the 
departments of Justice, Public Safety and Health.

The first step in the path to legalization will be establishing a 
provincial, territorial and federal task force to hear from public 
health, substance abuse and public safety experts. Meanwhile , 
Shoppers Drug Mart says it is interested in becoming the first drug 
store to sell marijuana products in its pharmacies if the regulations 
would allow it.
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