The federal government must loosen unfair restrictions that are preventing seriously ill Canadians from obtaining the medical marijuana they need to treat their debilitating illnesses, lawyers for the sick argued Monday in Federal Court. Health Canada has effectively established itself as the country’s sole legal provider of medical marijuana, but is providing an expensive yet ineffective drug that doesn’t meet the needs of many patients who use it to treat chronic pain, seizures and other ailments, Alan Young said.
It has also shrugged off complaints about the drug, which costs about $150 per ounce, and failed to improve the program by providing patients with different strains designed for their specific medical needs, Young told the court. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Here’s some pot for you, knock yourself out.’ That’s not the way medicine is delivered,” Young said outside court Monday. “You come up with the optimal product.” There are providers who want to supply various strains of the drug at a lower cost for medical use, but they’re prohibited from doing so because government policy restricts them from supplying more than one patient, the Osgoode Law School professor added.
That’s forcing medical marijuana patients to risk their own safety to find the medicine they need, said Alison Myrden, 44, a medicinal marijuana user for nearly eight years to treat multiple sclerosis and tic doloureux, a neurological condition that causes extreme facial pain. “I’m constantly on the street because I’m chasing a strain that the government doesn’t offer,” she said. “So until the government offers more than one strain, people like myself are forced back onto the street. I grow my own medicine, but I still have a problem getting the strains that I need because they’re kept hostage in the black market.”
Myrden, who uses about 28 to 30 grams of marijuana daily, said she would be taking 32 pills and 2,000 grams of morphine each day if she didn’t have access to pot. “I actually was given heroin and cocaine both for the pain in my face, and neither of them worked better than certain strains of cannabis that I can get on the street,” she said.
Many of these problems are the result of a poorly conceived “eleventh hour” government policy that was rushed into place following a 2003 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that struck down certain rules that limited access to medical marijuana, said Young. In response, Health Canada amended its policy to provide reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes, a change that came into force that December. Those rules allow medical marijuana users to either grow the product themselves, have someone grow it for them or buy it from Health Canada, which obtains the drug through its contract manufacturer, Prairie Plant Systems Inc., which grows pot in Flin Flon, Man.
But previous governments have been uncomfortable with their role as cannabis supplier. Former Liberal health minister Anne McLellan, an unabashed opponent of the government’s medical marijuana program, was reluctant to provide the drug to patients. “They are determined not to let an individual grow marijuana for more than one person – determined,” Young said. “They want to have control over it and they said ultimately our vision is that we’ll be out of this business and that marijuana products are available in pharmacies and we can wash our hands of it.”
Health Canada spokeswoman Joey Rathwell declined to comment Monday on the case, as it is before the courts. The case, which began in 2004, will be heard for two more days in Federal Court. Some of the applicants have since died since the case was first filed and their number has been reduced to 17 from the original 27, the court heard.
– Article from CBC News