TORONTO – Canadians prescribed marijuana to treat illness will have more choice in where to buy their drugs after a court ruling Monday that ends the federal government’s monopoly on supplying medical marijuana to patients. Justice Department lawyers had sought to appeal a lower-court ruling that granted licensed producers the right to grow marijuana for more than one patient. But the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s challenge, saying it was not persuaded by government lawyers who argued that growers supplying more than one patient would lead to an unregulated industry.
In January, a federal court judge struck down the one-to-one ratio as unconstitutional and unnecessarily restrictive. The judgment was stayed pending Monday’s appeal. Lawyer Alan Young, who represented medical marijuana users, said the ruling was a victory for “sick people.” “It’s time for Health Canada to recognize that medical marijuana is an established part of the regimen for a lot of patients,” Young said outside court. “Instead of thwarting patient needs, they should be accommodating patient needs and, hopefully, this case will be a signal to them.”
Authorized users who cannot grow their own marijuana can designate a grower, or obtain government-issued marijuana supplied by Prairie Plant Systems in Manitoba. But a group of 30 patients who challenged the regulations argued the government pot was weak, and they should have the option to select their source. They wanted the right to buy marijuana from Carasel Harvest Supply Corp., which, under the current regime, was not allowed to supply more than one patient with medical marijuana.
There are about 2,000 people legally allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes, but the lower court found only 20 per cent buy it from the government supplier. Justice Department lawyer Sean Gaudet told court that statistic wasn’t enough to conclude the government-supplied marijuana was inadequate, or forced people to seek drugs on the black market. There could be many reasons why a medical marijuana user seeks an alternative source, he said.
Moreover, sanctioning growers to supply more than one patient will allow the industry to develop “without safeguards” and “exacerbates” the risk that marijuana will be “diverted” to improper use, Gaudet told the three-judge panel. He asked the court to give the government more time to create new regulations and safeguards for growers supplying more than one patient – a request that was denied by the court.
Young said Health Canada will now have to evaluate each application by designated growers on an ad hoc basis. Still, he said the case could end up back in court if the government tries to implement new rules that limit growers from supplying marijuana to only two or three users. “They’re saying it’s easier for them to control 1,600 grows as opposed to consolidating it to maybe 30 large grows,” Young said. “That just doesn’t make any sense. It is easier to monitor fewer locations, where there is a concentration of growing activity.”
In 2003, an Ontario appeal court struck down Health Canada’s regulations barring growers from supplying more than one patient on the grounds it effectively forced many users to buy their medicine on the street. But the government reinstated the policy several months later, prompting the current court challenge.
Medical marijuana user Alison Myrden smokes more than 30 joints a day and said she regularly goes to the “street” to find the strain of marijuana that alleviates her multiple sclerosis and a nerve condition in her face. Now she said she will be able to source strains of marijuana that are “compatible” with her illnesses, instead of the one strain supplied by Health Canada. “We all want the same thing, ultimately, and that’s our freedom,” Myrden said. “The freedom to be able to do what we want without government intervention and without somebody telling us we can’t do it.”
– Article from CanWest News Service, Monday, October 27th 2008