Local pot advocates applauded the federal government Thursday after it announced new rules that will allow patients to grow medical marijuana for their own use, or designate a grower to do so for them.
The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations go into effect on Aug. 24, replacing the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.
Under the ACMPR, patients who have been authorized by a doctor to access medical cannabis will be allowed to produce a limited amount of pot for personal use, or designate a grower to produce it for them. Those wishing to grow their own medical cannabis will need to first register with Health Canada.
Dispensaries and compassion clubs, however, remain illegal.
“The devil is often in the details but I think it’s a really big step forward,” said Vancouver lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who represented the four plaintiffs in the case of Allard v. Canada. The decision issued in that case is what spurred the new regulations shared Thursday.
“It’s by far the most robust response to a court decision involving the Charter on medical cannabis that any government has made and I think it’s a far cry better than the response that the Conservative government would have come up with had they been in power.”
In the decision issued in February of this year, Judge Michael Phelan ruled patients should have the constitutional right to access and grow their own medical marijuana.
However, in the federal government’s statement issued Thursday, it noted the regulations are an “immediate solution” in response to the decision, and that it should not be treated as being representative of any long-term plans for the legalization of pot.
“As we move toward legalization, what I’m hoping the government does is have us at the forefront of its mind,” said Tousaw. “What I mean by that is, in order for a medical system to work, patients have to be the primary concern … not unduly burdensome restrictions.”
According to Tousaw’s briefing notes from Thursday’s announcement, the understanding under the ACMPR is that designated producers can supply a maximum of two patients each, and up to four producers can use a single production facility.
Production amounts are to be calculated using a specific formula, and there is a maximum possession level of 150 grams per patient. Further details, including how to register with Health Canada as a self producer, are expected Aug. 24.
Vancouver pot activist Dana Larsen said Thursday he was “celebrating” the announcement but noted there’s still more work to be done by the federal government.
“There’s still flaws in there that still need to be fixed but this is a big step forward and a big victory for what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “I believe all Canadians should be able to buy and grow as needed but for those with medical needs, they should be at the front of the lineup in this process.”
Earlier this year, Larsen launched a pro-legalization campaign in which he gave away marijuana seeds during a book tour across the country. Larsen had hoped the “victory gardens” would be planted in plain sight as part of the campaign. He was later arrested and charged in Calgary for distributing the seeds but had vowed to push on with his campaign.
“I think this (the ACMPR) makes it harder for them to deny other Canadians to grow a few plants themselves for personal or social use,” he said.
Tamara Cartwright-Poulits is licensed to grow medical marijuana but has not had a garden since moving from her Alberta home to Cranbrook, B.C. Cartwright-Poulits, 46, is a part of the Canadian Therapeutic Cannabis Partners Society, which advocates for access to medical marijuana.
“It’s a huge win for us,” she said Thursday. “Most of us are fairly pleased with the regulations.”
Cartwright-Poulits has colitis and she says that, of all the treatments she has tried, medical marijuana has been the only thing that helps her condition but doesn’t leave her in a fog and unable to care for her six-year-old son.
While still in Alberta, Cartwright-Poulits grew her own marijuana and treated the condition herself as needed. These days, however, she’s had to rely on ordering through licensed producers who ship to her home. Cranbrook doesn’t have a dispensary so Cartwright-Poulits is often left waiting at the mercy of snail mail.
“We’ve been financially burdened because we’ve had to purchase instead of growing our own,” she said.
While the Cranbrook woman would prefer to grow her own medical marijuana, she noted that’s not the case for every patient — especially seniors, cancer patients, or city dwellers who either don’t have the energy, resources, or space to grow their own.
It’s for that reason that she believes the government still has some work to do when it comes to the parts of the ACMPR that deal with dispensaries and compassion clubs, as well as with legalization of marijuana.
“I believe that everybody has a right to access cannabis. Just because I have a piece of paper doesn’t make me better than anybody else,” she said. “I just wish that the Liberal government would be speedy and expedient in looking over the dispensary angle of the program.”
Scott Bardsley, of the Office of the Minister of Public Safety, said marijuana production and use not addressed by the ACMPR remains illegal.
“Outside of the medical marijuana regime, the possession, production and trafficking of marijuana remains illegal,” Bardsley said in a statement. “This includes storefronts selling marijuana, commonly known as ‘dispensaries’ and ‘compassion clubs.’ These operations are illegally supplied, and provide products that are untested, unregulated and may be unsafe.
“The Government of Canada supports federal, provincial and municipal enforcement actions to address illegal storefront distribution and sale of marijuana in Canada. However, the administration of the law is under provincial jurisdiction and there are differences across the country in terms of how provinces handle that.”
But Tousaw noted that those behind dispensaries and compassion clubs are likely more than willing to comply with regulations and guidelines for legalization, if only they could be kept in the loop with the federal government’s plans.
“I think all dispensaries would welcome the ability to participate,” he said. “Why then is there this reluctance by the federal government to bring them into the legitimate arena as opposed to treating them as criminals?”
Tousaw also spoke about Vancouver’s own attempts at regulating dispensaries, which got underway earlier this spring.
“I think that the City of Vancouver took a very, very bold step in implementing regulations and legitimizing storefront dispensaries but I think the implementation has been rocky and bumpy — but that’s not to be unexpected in a first-of-its-kind situation,” he said.
“We’ll get through those and one hopes that we’ll learn from that experience and that the next set of regulations will be more seamless.”
A statement from B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety seemed to echo the federal government’s stance, maintaining that cannabis dispensaries remain illegal, even when dispensing to medical marijuana users.
“If medical cannabis businesses are operating contrary to a municipal bylaw, it is up to the municipality to deal with any contravention,” the statement read. “If medical cannabis businesses are operating contrary to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, that is a matter for the police.”