Is Health Canada Getting Out of the Medical Marijuana Business?

CANNABIS CULTURE – An official at Health Canada says the agency is planning on getting out of the medical marijuana business completely. Health Canada’s Director of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Jeannine Ritchot testified to a judge in an ongoing medical marijuana case that the current licencing program would be replaced with a new system that includes licencing larger-scale commercial growers.

“Health Canada would be completely out of the picture and patients would no longer apply to Health Canada for licences,” said Paul Lewin, lawyer for Matt Mernagh, the medical marijuana user at the centre of the case. “Instead, the patients would get something from their doctor – we’re not sure exactly what yet – and they would take that to larger-scale commercial growers, who would still be licensed.”

Lewin was questioning Ritchot under cross-examination as part of the ongoing case proceedings when she divulged the new information.

“We weren’t expecting anything like this,” Lewin said. “We figured they would just give us as little information as possible.”

On April 11, 2011 in the case of R. v. Mernagh, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down Canada’s laws prohibiting the possession and production of marijuana, giving the Canadian federal government 90 days to fix the country’s medical marijuana program before the ruling comes into effect and effectively legalizes cannabis in Ontario.

Justice Donald Taliano found that Canada’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) and “the prohibitions against the possession and production of cannabis (marihuana) contained in sections 4 and 7 respectively of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” are “constitutionally invalid and of no force and effect”.

Mernagh, the long-time medical marijuana user at the heart of the case, suffers from fibromyalgia, scoliosis, and seizures but was unable to find a doctor willing to sign the required paperwork allowing him to become a legal marijuana user. He was subsequently raided and arrested for growing his own plants without a licence.

Justice Taliano found that “the road to marihuana approval is a virtual obstacle course which few patients can navigate. Rather than providing access to medicinal marihuana, the MMAR raise so many barriers to access that the defence is meaningless and illusory for most patients.” His ruling in the case effectively eliminates the MMAR program after 90 days, forcing the government to put together an entirely new program.

The government has appealed the ruling and applied for a stay of the judge’s 90-day deadline. The government filed an affidavit in support of the stay, and Lewin was cross-examining Ritchot about the affidavit.

Health Canada was contacted by Cannabis Culture, but did not respond with comment by the time of publication.

“They said they would consult with compassion clubs,” Mernagh, who was present during the cross-examination of the Health Canada official, told Cannabis Culture in an exclusive video interview. “They said they would consult with Canadians; they said they would consult with medical marijuana patients […] naturopaths, herbalists, The Canadian Medical Association, doctors – they’re going to engage in a massive consultation process. The end result being that they no longer want to be in the selling of marijuana.”

Ritchot said the consulting period would be from 30 days to three months. “So that will probably be starting soon,” Lewin said.

Lewin said he asked Ritchot how many “large-scale commercial growers” would be licenced. “As many as qualify under our requirements,” she answered.

The proceedings continue on June 22 when Lewin and Mernagh return to court to argue against the governments application for a stay on the 90 day deadline. If Mernagh and his lawyer win, The MMAR and possession and cultivation laws will be invalidated on Ontario on July 11.

UPDATE: Health Canada provided this statement to CC on June 16:

Health Canada is currently considering measures to reform the Marihuana Medical Access Program and its regulations. We will be making an announcement soon on our proposed changes to the program.

Watch CCN News LIVE this Friday at 4PM Pacific for a live in-studio interview with med-pot patient Matt Mernagh.

UPDATE #2: The mainstream media has now picked up the story. From the Canadian Press:

OTTAWA — The federal government is poised to tighten the rules on medical marijuana so that only licensed private operators are allowed to grow it, The Canadian Press has learned.

Sources say Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq wants to take individuals and Health Canada out of the business of growing pot.

Instead, she wants to tender licences to the private sector to produce marijuana in a way that is similar to how conventional drugs are produced — by companies, under tightly regulated conditions.

The move is a response to complaints from mayors, police and firefighters — mainly in British Columbia — who say sanctioned growers are abusing their permits and often growing far more than they need.

Read the rest of the CP article.

So Health Canada admits it wants to get out the pot business – but it wants to “take individuals out” with it. Looks like med-pot growers may have another fight on their hands, as the press continues to play-up the latest anti-marijuana propaganda angle with distortions targeting private growers.

More coming soon on CC

Jeremiah Vandermeer is editor of Cannabis Culture. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.