Patients seeking to use medical marijuana are being forced to wait as long as six months by Health Canada because a backlog of permit applications, a B.C. doctor says.
Dr. Gwyllyn Goddard said patients are told that getting a permit to use medical marijuana should take about 60 days. Each year, however, they’re waiting longer for Health Canada to approve their applications — from two months to three months, and now six months.
Because of the delays many patients ended up buying pot illegally while they wait for the official government permit, Goddard said.
“A lot of these patients are resorting to purchasing these products illegally, such as from compassion clubs, which are not legal, or from mom-and-pop operations that are growing it illegally. As well there are gangs that are growing the product and you never know what,” he said.
“It is also a financial burden.”
Goddard has authorized medical marijuana for more than 100 patients, including Joseph Chenier, a 47-year-old carpenter who was taking morphine for chronic pain from a knee he describes as “destroyed” after an injury on the job.
The morphine was giving Chenier nightmares, however, and making him depressed, so Goddard prescribed medical marijuana instead last December.
Once Chenier applied to Health Canada for a licence to use medical marijuana, he was told it would take 60 days. By April, he still didn’t have his permit, so he started to complain.
“Finally, after five months or so, I started to threaten them that I was going to fly to Ottawa and camp outside their office, and two weeks later I got my card,” he said on Monday.
Health Canada blames the delays on a sharp rise in the number of people applying to use medical marijuana, noting it received twice as many applications this June as in the same month last year.
Health Canada also said it has since hired new staff to deal with the backlog, but would not say how many.
Goddard said government staff may be doing the best they can, but the wait is stressful on patients.
“I think the long wait times are very difficult for the patient,” Goddard said. “You know, it causes anxiety, it increases their sense of doing something illegal, because they don’t have a licence for it.”