End of medical marijuana program violates patients' constitutional rights: lawyer
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014 1:18PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 18, 2014 1:55PM EDT
Lawyers are in a federal court in British Columbia arguing that patients who have licences to grow their own medical marijuana should be allowed to continue the practice after the program ends at the end of the month.
Abbotsford, B.C. lawyer John Conroy “and his team want the current system or ‘status quo’ maintained for those patients seeking an exemption,” reported CTV’s Vancouver Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy.
April 1 will mark the end of the Medical Marijuana Access Program, which for years has allowed some 37,000 Canadians who have obtained a licence to grow their own pot to treat medical conditions such as cancer, MS and arthritis.
Under the new regulations, Canadians will have to purchase their marijuana from one of a seven federally licensed growers.
Patients say that growing their own marijuana costs them just cents a day. Buying from federally licenced growers, however, will jack up the price by as much as ten times higher. Nagy, who is in court Tuesday, reported that marijuana from federally licensed growers could cost up to $12 per gram.
Conroy argues that the new regulations violate patients’ constitutional rights. He says the federal government must give patients a choice if they are able to grow their own but unable to afford the drug through a federal grower.
The federal government has argued that the change is necessary to stem growing criminal activity surrounding the program, including robberies at the homes of patients who grow their own weed. They also cite instances where police allege members of organized crime groups have asked licensed growers to produce drugs for them.
Health Canada told CTV News in a statement that the new guidelines will “better protect public safety.”
Some patients, particularly those on disability or a pension, have said they will defy the new rules, arguing that they cannot afford the higher prices and fear that their symptoms will return.
A patient named Joanne, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, has been growing her own cannabis for two years to treat the pain of her severe arthritis. She blends the buds into an oil, at a cost of pennies a day.
But under the new rules, the cost will spike to $2,800 per month.
“I know that I can’t afford to put that type of money up to access medical marijuana, but I know I don’t want to live without the oil,” Joanne told CTV News through tears last month. “It has made such a difference in the quality of my life.”
Patients must destroy their plants before April 1, Health Canada says. If patients do not provide written confirmation to the agency by the end of April, Health Canada will notify police, Nagy reported.
Vancouver Police said officers will take a “priority based approach” to enforcing the new regulations,” Nagy tweeted. The force considers methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine among its investigative priorities.
A decision on the injunction request is not expected Tuesday.
Follow CTV's Vancouver Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy as she tweets from the courtroom: