Aglukkaq confirms plan to tighten medical marijuana rules
Medical marijuana clone plants are shown at Harborside Health Center, a medical marijuana dispensary, in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Published Friday, June 17, 2011 2:30PM EDT
OTTAWA - Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is confirming that she intends to further restrict the way medical marijuana is grown.
She wants to take individual growers and Health Canada out of the business of producing the drug, and instead grant licences only to commercial operations.
The government says it will consult with the public until July 31 on how best to phase in the changes.
The move is in response to complaints from police, firefighters and municipal officials who say individual growers attract crime, and cause fire and health hazards in their communities.
Aglukkaq also wants to streamline the process for patients trying to obtain authorization to possess medical marijuana.
But in a press release, she also warned that there are no changes to legalize pot for recreational purposes.
"Marijuana will continue to be regulated as a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act," she stated.
Since 2001, Canadians in intense pain have been able to ask their doctors for permission to use medical marijuana to better manage their conditions.
The courts have ruled that patients deemed in need of the drug should be able to possess and access a legal supply.
Until now, they could either grow it themselves, get it from a designated grower, or buy it from Health Canada. The government has contracted a Saskatchewan company to grow one strain of marijuana.
But police, especially in British Columbia, are complaining that designated growers are abusing their permits and growing far more than required for patients' needs.
They say legal growers are attracting illegal activity, knowingly or unknowingly.
Mayors across the country have banded together to ask Ottawa to at least make sure that people who are growing marijuana at their homes are required to obtain the proper building permits.
"Our government is very concerned that the current Marijuana Medical Access Program is open to abuse and exploitation by criminal elements," Aglukkaq said.
"That is why we are proposing improvements to the program that will reduce the risk of abuse and keep our children and communities safe, while significantly improving the way program participants access marijuana."
Patients have also complained they are having trouble persuading their doctors to prescribe the drug. They say doctors find the bureaucratic process of giving permission to use marijuana too onerous.
Plus, officials say not all doctors are clear about how much marijuana to allow, and under what conditions.
So Health Canada is setting up a committee to provide doctors with current information. Plus, under the new rules, patients won't have to ask Health Canada for permission to use medical marijuana, and will just be able to deal with their own doctors instead.
"These proposed improvements reflect concerns we have heard from all kinds of Canadians including law enforcement, fire officials, municipalities, program participants and the medical profession," Aglukkaq said.
The proposals may do the trick for city mayors. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities immediately issued a press release welcoming the moves as practical, but urged the government to move quickly and also deal with their immediate safety concerns right away.
"We welcome the federal government's commitment to develop smarter rules that allow municipalities to do our job protecting neighbourhood safety and delivering front-line police, fire, and emergency services," said federation president Berry Vrbanovic.
About 10,000 people across Canada have permission to use medical marijuana.