The number of Canadians legally permitted to use pot as medicine has tripled in the past three years since the Conservatives took power.
At last official count by Health Canada this past June, 4,029 people were authorized to possess cannabis under Marijuana Medical Access Regulations, 2,841 were allowed to grow their own plants and 481 had special permission to grow it on behalf of another patient. That’s up from 1,273 who had permits in February 2006.
Ontario leads the legal pot pack with 1,631 licensed tokers, while 1,008 British Columbians have the right to light up. Manitoba, Alberta and New Brunswick have the fewest authorizations, and only 39 people have permits in Newfoundland.
Ottawa resident Russell Barth, who legally smokes pot to help relieve symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia, is pleased authorized pot users are on the upward swing but believes the official tally represents a small fraction of those using marijuana for treatment. Many patients don’t bother to apply for a permit because of onerous paperwork or can’t find a doctor to sign their forms.
He said even when patients do have legal permission, they have trouble accessing quality, affordable pot. They also face hurdles transporting it and smoking it where they need it.
“It’s obscene. It’s systematic discrimination,” he said.
Health Canada grants permission to people who are suffering from grave and debilitating illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, epilepsy or HIV/AIDS.
Barth said Conservative Bill C-15, which cracks down on drug offences, including tougher penalties for marijuana trafficking, could impact legal medicinal users by making access more costly and less secure. Smaller growers and compassion clubs will fear being thrown in jail for long terms and will leave the market to organized criminals, he said.
Health Canada obtains its marijuana and seed supply from Prairie Plant Systems Incorporated, and licensed patients can buy their supply from the government or grow their own. But Barth called the federal supply “crap.”
Blair Longley, leader of the Marijuana Party of Canada, said marijuana should be legal for all Canadians who want to smoke it whether they are sick or in perfect health. But he sees the rising number of legal authorizations as a good sign more doctors are valuing its medicinal properties.
“When the program started, you had to almost prove you’d be dead in six months,” he said. “Now it’s more wide-based and easier to get for things like migraines and arthritis.”
– Article from the Ottawa Sun on October 23, 2009.