Canada’s medical marijuana licensing system is vulnerable to abuse and needs to be tightened up, says the health minister after data emerged this week revealing a surge in possibly fraudulent applications.
“We’re aware that there are opportunities and risks of the system being abused, which is why we are working to tighten up the system,” said Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, on Friday.
Outhouse was speaking in response to the Ottawa Citizen’s recent series looking at medical marijuana licensing and use in Canada. The series was based on electronic data the Citizen obtained from Health Canada through the Access to Information Act.
The figures showed, for example, that between 2008 and 2010 applications to Health Canada for medical marijuana based on severe arthritis claims jumped 2,400 per cent.
There are two main changes Aglukkaq has proposed to prevent exploitation of the government’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, said Outhouse.
They include better educating doctors on how to prescribe medical marijuana and eliminating the right of patients to be granted a licence to grow in their homes, he said.
“We want to be able to get more information out to doctors . . . because often doctors don’t have all the information they need to make an informed decision as to whether or not to prescribe,” said Outhouse.
“The other thing . . . we’re proposing is that people wouldn’t grow in homes. That it would be available through a centralized location, whatever company would grow it, to treat it as much as any other drug.”
Outhouse said the health minister is concerned about the safety risks involved with allowing people to grow marijuana plants in their home.
He said it’s also difficult to regulate plant growth in homes, and there is a risk of people growing more marijuana than they are permitted.
“If we can reduce and eliminate that at the home level, then I think a lot of these issues will be dealt with,” said Outhouse.
However, under the proposed changes, Health Canada wants to remove itself as the ultimate arbiter in approving or rejecting applications to possess marijuana for medical reasons.
Instead, doctors alone would sign off on requests.
The nation’s largest doctors’ group — the Canadian Medical Association — has said the proposals would put even greater pressure on doctors to control access to a largely untested and unregulated substance, a drug that hasn’t gone through the normal regulatory review process. Their licensing bodies have told doctors that they are under no obligation to complete a medical declaration under the current regulations and that anyone who chooses to do so should “proceed with caution.”
The CMA fears that the changes being proposed would essentially off-load all responsibility for using and monitoring marijuana to the doctors who signs an authorization.
Health Canada is appointing an expert advisory committee that will be charged with assembling the most up-to-date information on the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The group will also look at how to share that information with doctors.
Outhouse said the Health Department recently wrapped up consultations on the issue, and is in the process of presenting its findings to different groups, including medical marijuana compassion clubs, police chiefs and fire marshals.
The government has said that the proposed changes to the program would make it less complicated for seriously ill Canadians.
He expects the new regulations to be finalized in 2012.
Outhouse admitted it’s difficult to take a “balanced approach” when looking to fix abuses of the system.
“We want to make sure that the people who need (medical marijuana) continue to access it, and then those who are abusing the system aren’t able to do that, as best as we can,” he said.
With files from Sharon Kirkey, Postmedia News.
– Article originally from The Montreal Gazette.