In a three-story townhouse in downtown Toronto, CALM presides. CALM is Toronto’s first medical-marijuana “club,” established in 1996 and second in size only to the B.C. Compassion Club of Vancouver. The acronym stands for “Cannabis As Living Medicine” – something to which the 3,000-plus members can readily attest. CALM provides a variety of Canada’s best medicinal strains to those in need. Nothing about the CALM facility would suggest a shred of illegal dealing – but, unfortunately, every move it makes on behalf of Canadian citizens who need medical cannabis is fraught with peril these days.
Ten years ago, Canada became the first nation on Earth to allow the legal possession of medicinal marijuana. Health Canada, the federal agency in charge of the health-care system, oversees and regulates the medical-marijuana program and approves each license to possess cannabis. Licensed users can have their prescription filled by growing their own small supply of marijuana, finding a designated grower (also licensed by the government) or buying their cannabis directly from Health Canada, which grows it in government gardens. However, in the 10 years that Health Canada has been in charge of the system, Canadians’ access to medical marijuana has been subject to a bungling and opaque bureaucracy.
According to Health Canada’s January statistics, 4,884 citizens of Canada had secured licenses to possess medical cannabis. For those applying for a license, the wait can be as long as six months; the backlog of applications is mountainous, and applications are commonly lost. Furthermore, Canadian doctors have consistently been reluctant to put their names on the dotted line when a patient asks for a med-pot recommendation. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies have both discouraged doctors from endorsing cannabis medicine, as have some medical organizations themselves – such the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, which last year advised doctors not to prescribe marijuana. To make matters worse, patients who have been able to find doctors willing to recommend cannabis are often charged fees exceeding $1,000. So in the entire province, only 79 Canadians are licensed to possess medical pot. In Manitoba, which has a population of 1.2 million, a grand total of 63 people are licensed.
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