Ottawa is changing the rules on medical marijuana and in a few years most patients may no longer be able to grow their own or buy it from designated growers. Instead, they’ll have to order medical marijuana from a larger, authorized grower and wait for it to arrive by courier.
MP Randy Kamp reviewed the changes for Maple Ridge council Monday, explaining that someone who’s sick will go to the doctor, and if Health Canada concurs, the doctor will write a prescription.
The patient will send the prescription to an authorized grower, who will ship it by secure courier to the patient.
“It seems to us and it seems to you that the [present] program isn’t working, that it’s being abused and that illegal growers are using it in a way that it’s not designed to be,” Kamp said.
Currently, Health Canada has issued more than 12,000 possession-only licences for medical marijuana while more than 7,000 people have a personal-use production licence.
But the system has been criticized by police, who say the medical grow ops attract crime. Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Dave Walsh said last week that formerly illegal grow ops are now licenced medical-grow operations.
Kamp said the government expects the new rules to be challenged in the courts.
Following the transition process, by about 2015, people who grow their own or those who are growing medical marijuana for others will see their yearly licences expire and “will not be part of the program.” Instead, they’ll have to get a prescription and order from the “authorized grower.”
“That will be their source, one of the authorized growers. They will not be able to grow anymore.”
Kamp said licenced growers will be able to select the varieties they produce as well as the prices they charge.
The new system will reduce the number of medical pot growers, but make them larger. “We don’t know how many, but there will be a relatively small number of authorized growers.”
Health Canada also will be able to audit and inspect those operations, he pointed out, and while the system probably could be improved, “I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.”
Kamp said pharmacies were considered as a means of distribution, but that would require a drug identification number.
“Pharmacies definitely don’t want to be part of this.”
Doctors didn’t want to be involved either, he added, but it’s difficult not to get their participation. Under the new rules, doctors would determine the amount of marijuana, just as they do with other prescriptions.
As of Oct. 30 – 12,225 people hold an “authorization to possess” dried marijuana licence under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations in Canada.
Of those, 7,277 people hold a “personal-use production licence,” while 2,163 more hold a “designated-person” licence, which allows someone else to grow their marijuana.
Coun. Al Hogarth said Maple Ridge should start determining regulations now for such operations to ensure they don’t end up in residential areas, while Coun. Cheryl Ashlie wanted to ensure Maple Ridge’s small farm lots of five acres wouldn’t be excluded from any future medical marijuana grow operations.
“This is a potential economic driver for us and I don’t want to lose out on that.”
Kirk Tousaw, B.C. president of End Prohibition, has mixed views on Health Canada’s plan. Mail order would work in remote parts of the country, but people often become accustomed to visiting the compassion clubs such as the The Always Growing Green Society in Maple Ridge, which dispenses medical marijuana.
“I’d hate to see that lost. I hope that Health Canada finds a way to bring them into the fold,” Tousaw said. “There’s a lot of healing that goes by being able to talk to others in similar circumstances.”
But he says the government may be afraid of storefront operations. “Probably because it normalizes the idea of buying marijuana at a store.”
Commercial growers don’t necessarily want to be involved in the retail aspect or direct selling, Tousaw pointed out.
The new system could also hurt patients who just grow small amounts for themselves. Now, they’ll have to pay for it.
“I’d hate to see them turned back into criminals.”
But he likes the idea of expanding the system of designated growers and taking advantage of economies of scale.
The “evolution towards a business-regulated model for the production and distribution of marijuana is a good thing and an inevitable thing.”
It’s something that should be happening for healthy people, he added.