LETHBRIDGE HERALD -with Canadian Press files
A recent court decision affirming Canada's medical marijuana laws won't make it any easier for Albertans to use the drug for medicinal purposes, a local advocate says.
Tamara Cartwright-Poulits, director of the Southern/Central Alberta Cannabis Club, says a Feb. 1 ruling from Ontario's Court of Appeal only continues to restrict access to medical marijuana for those who genuinely need it.
"It wouldn't matter whether we have access to (medical marijuana). We won't be able to access a doctor to even get signed to have medicine," she said.
The appeal court ruling struck down an earlier Ontario Superior Court ruling that had said Canada's laws against possession and production of marijuana laws were unconstitutional. The earlier ruling found a majority of people who needed medical marijuana couldn't get access to it because they couldn't find doctors who would grant them a licence. That decision, which would have effectively legalized pot, was put on hold until the appeal could be heard. The appeal court ruled that there was not enough evidence to support the lower court's decision and that "this court did not hold that serious illness gives rise to an automatic right to use marijuana."
The ruling comes as the federal government considers changing its medical marijuana program.
In December, Canada's health minister, Leona Aglukkaq, announced that the government will stop growing marijuana to sell to medical marijuana users at a taxpayer-subsidized rate of $5 per gram. Instead, the government will contract that responsibility out to approved companies. It will also stop issuing licences for users to grow marijuana in their own homes, citing safety concerns.
There are about 26,000 medical marijuana licence holders in Canada, and between 350 and 400 in Alberta, Cartwright-Poulits said.
If they aren't allowed to grow their own marijuana, she fears, licenced medical marijuana users may not be able to afford to buy it.
"Most of us that do grow our medicine can produce our medicine at 50 cents per gram, whereas with this proposal change for the commercial licencing it'll be $8.80 per gram. Anybody on disability that will not be covered by any health insurance plan would not be able to afford their prescription as it is, so it eliminates the whole realm of the program," Cartwright-Poulits said. "It's financially going to devastate families all across this country because they won't be able to afford $8.80 a gram."
She's part of a coalition to launch an injunction against the government to stop these proposed changes to the program and she said the group has already received more than 2,000 impact statements from medical marijuana users who want to be able to grow their own pot.
"In reality, you're never producing so much that you're able to get rid of such an overage that (contributes to) organized crime. And I think people have a huge misconception on what our gardens actually produce."
Health Canada is accepting feedback on the proposed changes until Feb. 28 and expects to implement its new program in March 2014.
If the proposed changes do go through, Cartwright-Poulits believes more medical marijuana users could end up in jail.
"There's going to be some of them that will not quit. These poor, sick patients will grow, and because of mandatory jail sentences, those poor, sick people will be the ones that will be getting the jail sentencing," she said, acknowledging that Canada's current medical marijuana program isn't perfect.
"Ultimately, we'd like to see legalization and regulation along with education and taxation as well, kicking back to the provinces for health care, education, senior care, all our social programs that are lacking funding now. But it's going to take time."