There are many problems with the new medical marijuana program being initiated by the Conservative government. Activists and media reports have already highlighted some of the biggest ones: eliminating home cultivation, potentially high prices, issues around shipping, and a lack of access to non-smoked extracts and concentrates.
But there is another big problem which has not yet received any public comment: the likelihood of widespread fraud by people pretending to have a prescription to avoid possession charges.
Difficult to verify
Under the current system, Health Canada maintains a central database of all medical cannabis users in Canada. If a police officer comes across someone in possession of cannabis, that person can show the officer his Health Canada paperwork, and the officer can then call Health Canada to verify it.
Under the new system coming into force on April 1, there is no central database of medical cannabis users. Each licensed producer has a list of patients who they service, but there is no standardized form or card to verify that a patient is allowed to possess cannabis.
Under these new rules, a medical cannabis user is supposed to keep their cannabis in the packaging in which it was received. The label on their prescription bottle is their proof they have a prescription and are legally allowed to possess cannabis.
I have seen the prescription bottles from a few different companies, and each has different labelling and a different look. The containers vary widely in shape, size and format of their labels.
I recently had the chance to examine cannabis and packaging (pictured) provided by Peace Naturals, one of the seven companies currently licensed to provide medicinal cannabis. The patient had only had the packages for a short time, but the ink on the labels were already faded and hard to read. With a few more weeks of handling and smudges, most of the key information would be illegible.
I expect all sorts of fake prescription containers and labels to be created once the program gets going. This will become an easy way for anyone to avoid being bothered or arrested by police.
Prescription bottles for everyone!
What’s a police officer to do? When they come across a person who claims to have a prescription for cannabis and shows them a labeled prescription bottle, how will officers verify it?
These companies all have phone numbers listed on the label which the cops can call to verify a patient’s membership, but they will only be answering the phone during business hours. A police officer trying to verify a prescription at night, or on a weekend, will be out of luck.
Some of these companies are issuing ID cards for their patients, but again, each one will look different. How will an officer know if the card is legitimate or a fake?
More importantly, what is to stop someone from printing their own prescription labels and ID cards, and putting down the phone number of a friend instead of the actual company number? Or a recorded message that asks police to leave relevant info so they will get a call back? Entrepreneurs with a label-maker and voice mail could run a service providing fake prescription bottles and phone verification service.
Impossible to enforce
With dozens of different companies providing medical cannabis, each with different labels and packaging, it will be impossible for an officer to tell at a glance if the cannabis in question is really from a licensed producer.
I predict widespread proliferation of fake prescription bottles with fake labels and fake contact information. I predict that police will quickly become frustrated in trying to figure out who is valid and who is not.
Possession charges have been steadily rising across Canada since Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power in 2006. This new medical program could change all that, as pot smokers across Canada forge their own medical labels and make it impossible for police to enforce the laws against cannabis possession.
Did I say this was a problem? I take it back. This is an advantage of the new regulations! I don’t think the Conservatives intended to give every pot smoker in Canada an easy way to avoid being arrested, but that is exactly what these new rules will do.
For the first time, maybe Canadian cannabis users have a reason to say “thank you” to Stephen Harper.