Canadian Government Loses Challenge to Medical Marijuana Rules

The federal government lost another court challenge to its controversial medical marijuana program, and now has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling that declared one of its key policies unconstitutional. Under the current set of regulations, licensed producers are only allowed to grow the drug for one patient at a time. Federal Court Judge Barry Strayer said that one-to-one ratio violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The decision, the latest in a string of court cases, will essentially mean more choice for approved medical marijuana users and should provide them with easier access to the drug. “What the federal court effectively did was assert that the government of Canada does not have a monopoly over the production and distribution of medical marijuana,” said Alan Young, one of the lawyers who launched the court battle on behalf of 30 patients. Authorized users who cannot grow their own marijuana must rely on a sole source provider — either a licensed private producer, if they can find one willing to produce only for them, or the government, which buys the plants from a Saskatchewan-based company.

“In my view it is not tenable for the government, consistently with the right established in other courts for qualified medical users to have reasonable access to marijuana, to force them either to buy from the government contractor, grow their own or be limited to the unnecessarily restrictive system of designated producers,” Judge Strayer wrote in his decision, which was released late Thursday.

The one-to-one ratio was first struck down by an Ontario appeal court in 2003, but the government reinstated the policy several months later, prompting the current challenge. “We’re reviewing the decision,” said Paul Duchesne, a spokesman for Health Canada, which regulates the program. He would not comment further and did not indicate how quickly the government would decide about appealing the ruling.

Mr. Young and his co-counsel, Ron Marzel, described the court’s ruling as a “nail in the coffin” of the one-to-one ratio restriction. “In theory, patients now have a choice whether to buy from the government or whether to create the small collectives of patients that go to an experienced and knowledgeable grower,” said Mr. Young. About 2,000 people are legally allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes, but fewer than 20 per cent buy it from the government’s supplier. Some say the quality is poor and others say only one strain of the plant is offered — different strains having unique therapeutic effects.

Mr. Marzel does expect that the government will appeal the decision. If it does, or if it introduces a policy that only slightly changes the ratio, the lawyers say they will head back into court. Mr. Young said they will fight for a measure called supervisory jurisdiction, which would require Health Canada to submit progress reports to the court on the program’s operation. Judge Strayer has already denied that request, but Mr. Young said he will try again and has not ruled out lawsuits against Health Canada. “I’m just trying to clean up the law and to ensure that sick people have proper, lawful access to a medicine of their choice,” said Mr. Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

– Article from The Ottawa Citizen

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