Medical marijuana users have won a last-minute court reprieve that allows them to keep growing their own pot at home instead of destroying it and turning to new federally licensed commercial suppliers.
Federal Court Judge Michael Manson granted a temporary injunction Friday for those with a personal production licence to continue to grow medical marijuana, pending the outcome of a constitutional challenge still to be heard.
Health Canada’s new regulation outlawing personal growing had been slated to take effect April 1, but the decision throws a wrench into the Conservative government’s pot reform plans.
Medical marijuana users and their supporters are jubilant.
“I’m very excited,” said Sandra Colasanti, a Maple Ridge member of a coalition seeking to repeal the new rules.
Colasanti does not use pot, but her husband needs it for pain stemming from a broken neck and back.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who have everything from MS to cancer to full-blown AIDS and I’ve seen people die if they don’t have access to this.”
She said she’s optimistic the action, launched by Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy, will succeed when it goes to trial. No date has been set, but it’s expected sometime within the next nine to 12 months.
The federal government cited widespread problems with the current system of permitted medical marijuana users growing pot at home or having other designated growers do it for them. There are around 655 medical marijuana operations in Maple Ridge.
Colasanti said the coalition doesn’t deny there are problems with the old system, which cities say create fire risks and other safety hazards, from mould to home invasions.
Health Canada could have prevented such problems had it simply conducted regular inspections of permitted medical grows, she added, explaining that her husband had their operation checked by municipal building inspectors.
Maple Ridge was poised to send in inspection teams or police to root out the legal medical growops they were aware of come April.
Growers licensed under the old system had been ordered by Ottawa to give written notice by April 30 that they’d halted production and destroyed all leftover pot or face potential police enforcement.
Despite the uncertainty, Coun. Michael Morden still wants police, the fire department and bylaws staff to draft a plan on how to deal with dismantling the growops and recouping the costs of inspections.
He intends to issue a notice of motion if staff do not present a plan soon.
“These growers still get to hide behind the program,” said Morden.
“It’s high time we did the right thing. Thanks to some lawyer in Abbotsford, [the growers] are getting a reprieve. But the 630 people that live next to growops have to pay the price.”
The injunction doesn’t stop the launch of new commercial pot producers, but it throws into doubt how large their market will be if many users don’t have to immediately switch to them for their supply.
Agrima Botanicals, a Maple Ridge-based producer that hopes to acquire a commercial license, does not plan on halting preparations.
“It’s status quo,” said chief operations officer James Poelzer
“Our mission has always been to provide patients with the highest quality medical marijuana. I feel that once people realize what the new program has to offer, they will be switching over and purchasing from licensed producers.”
Health Canada has so far licensed only 12 companies to sell marijuana commercially to roughly 40,000 patients.
It issued a statement Friday following the court’s decision, reiterating its goal “to treat dried marijuana as much as possible like other narcotic drugs used for medical purposes.”
Health Canada will review the decision in detail and consider its options.
The department noted the rapid expansion of its marijuana access program from 100 authorized users in 2001 to 40,000 last year “has had significant unintended consequences on public health, safety and security.”
– with files from Monisha Martins