Pubdate: Thu, 25 Aug 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Peter Thurley
Page: A8


The federal Liberals recently unveiled new medical marijuana
regulations, in order to meet guidelines set out by the Supreme Court
of Canada. With the legalization of recreational cannabis, and likely
new ways of handling medical cannabis, forthcoming in the new year,
these regulatory changes offer clues as to the direction the federal
government is heading. Worryingly, all signs suggest that the new
rules will not benefit medical cannabis patients.

While the new system, known as the Access to Cannabis for Medical
Purposes Regulation (ACMPR), allows patients to grow their own plants,
it makes it clear that all dispensaries and compassion clubs are
illegal, despite the fact that they have a long history of helping
patients access their medicine. The new rules also impose a
complicated formula for determining the number of plants patients are
allowed to grow on their own, and perpetuates the special status
afforded to Canada's 34 licensed producers ( LPs), by ensuring that
they are the only legal source of young plants and seeds.

The federal government has a history of making the system as difficult
and as slow as possible for cannabis patients; I am thus not very
optimistic that the new application, which seems to require limited
registration with police, which will need to be reviewed in full by
all the medical professionals involved with a particular patient, will
allow people the freedom to grow their own medicine, as the Supreme
Court has said is their right.

Adding to the notorious red tape, the new system is vulnerable to
abuse by LPs. Indeed, it didn't take long for Canada's largest LP,
Canopy Growth Corp., to respond to the new framework. In a press
release sent out hours after the new federal regulations were
announced, Canopy charged that they were "a setback for the
advancement of sound cannabis policy and Canada's global leadership in
cannabis regulation."

No doubt reluctant to release any part of the growing process to the
public, Canopy Growth - which boasts more than half of the country's
legally registered cannabis patients - insisted that its customers
will not be allowed to grow its plants in their homes. Its new
program, Home grow without your home, promises to provide seeds,
training and rental equipment, but, by taking advantage of the clause
that allows patients to designate an alternate grower, will force its
clients to grow plants in one of its facilities. In other words, the
largest licensed producer in Canada is already using its power to hold
patients hostage, refusing to allow them to grow their own plants, in
their own homes.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the new regulations is that
they specifically disallow dispensaries and compassion clubs, even in
places where municipal bylaws allow them, as in Vancouver. Even before
cannabis's medical properties were recognized by the courts,
compassion clubs were engaging in community education and support
services to prospective and current patients, and helping people
navigate the challenges of obtaining what was then an illegal, but
effective, medicine. Run by folks who suffer from ailments that can be
treated with cannabis - like epilepsy, cancer and gastrointestinal
disorders - they helped patients figure out how best to take their
medication, how much to take and when. Not only have compassion clubs
served to support patients during the legalization battle, they
continue to be trusted by a majority of patients across Canada.

Although compassion clubs could be more transparent about how they
obtain their medical cannabis, having the ability to shop in a brick-
and-mortar store, and ask questions from people who are knowledgeable
about their products, is of great benefit to many patients. Unlike
other medications, different varieties of cannabis, taken in a variety
of concentrations, can have different effects on a patient. Moreover,
as the medicine is found in the fuzzy, sticky little hairs on top of
the cannabis flower, it sometimes helps to check the quality of the
product before purchasing it, as people regularly do with other
produce. Indeed, as I found out soon after becoming a patient six
months ago, shopping for the best quality medicine that works for
one's specific body chemistry can be a challenge.

By making it clear that dispensaries and compassion clubs are
altogether unwelcome on the Canadian landscape, and by assigning the
sole responsibility of providing for home growers to the current LPs,
alongside a challenging applications process, the Liberal government
has established a system through which it can say it complies with the
court's decision, without actually doing the hard work of creating
regulations that increase access to medication for patients who need

While the Liberals were elected on the promise of legalizing cannabis,
it seems instead that they've ripped the new regulations straight from
the policy book of the former Conservative government.

Peter Thurley, a Kitchener, Ont.- based writer and communications 
consultant, was diagnosed with desmoid fibromatosis in 2015 and uses 
cannabis for nerve pain resulting from the surgical removal of an 11- 
kilo abdominal tumour.
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