Medical Weed Growers in Canada Are Ready for a Fight
If you haven’t heard of marijuana activist and grower Mik Mann, he’s the articulate hippie and Frank Zappa look-alike we interviewed for our documentary BC Bud. He lives out in Port Alberni, a pretty remote town on Vancouver Island where he grows medicinal weed from the comfort of his basement garden.
For the last decade, Mik has enjoyed the benefits of a legal marijuana-growing license under Canada's now-defunct federal Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). He’s been floating on a healthy dose of seven grams of marijuana a day, which he cultivates from 35 plants with a doctor’s prescription for various debilitating conditions like spinal arthritis and degenerative disc disease. All that is officially set to change under the newly implemented and conservative-devised Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which, among other things, makes it illegal for users to personally grow their own pot. Instead, medical users like Mik, who predominantly make less than $30,000 a year and suffer from various diseases, will be forced to purchase corporate dope: only for-profit companies can afford the extensive requirement for licenses to grow in the new system.
Right now, patients pay an average of $1.80 a gram for marijuana. That will rise to $8.80 a gram when the MMPR takes effect in 2014. Estimates slap those same patients with an additional $166 million a year for the next ten years. In other words, the 28,115 Canadians using marijuana to ease chronic pain will be forced to rely on pricier government-sanctioned companies instead of personally growing it themselves for basically nothing.
As you can imagine, Mik is an outspoken critic of the Stephen Harper administration. We figured we’d get his take on the latest Canadian government weed program.
VICE: How are all the medicinal growers and users feeling about these new changes?
Mik Mann: Extremely angry, and it’s easy to see why. I’ve been growing my own medicine now for nearly 12—going on 13—years, and I’m going to be forced to buy what I consider substandard product at over double the price of what I can produce my own at. What it’s becoming is, once again, medicine for profit. They want to profit off of sick people.
What about how you’ve personalized your plant strains to your ailments?
Many of us have done that, you know, through trial and error we’ve found things that work extremely well for us and we would go to great lengths to protect those avenues to get those strains whether we’re getting it from somebody else or whether we’re growing it ourselves.
Where are people going to be getting it from under the new system?
The only legal choice is under this new MMPR program. I’m encouraging everyone in the old MMAR, all of us medical users, to boycott the new program, making it an automatic fail and sending us right back to court. I think that’s the simplest way to go at it, for people to go into it and say this program does not work for me and impedes access to my medication.
So your hope is to start a class-action suit and take this to the Supreme Court?
We’re hoping. John Conroy is a lawyer based out of Abbotsford and he’s representing a great number of people and stakeholders in the MMAR. I’d like to see the whole thing done away with and let it go to the private sector and to home growers who submit proper inspection certificates that everything is up to code. Because really you’re growing plants in the house, I could be growing sunflowers and have my whole basement lit up and nobody would say a word to me, but I change the crop and it’s a big deal. And again, it’s only about the money involved, whereas the simple solution is let everyone who wants to grow it, grow it. But then the price drops and it’s no longer the lucrative illegal operation where everyone thinks they’re going to make a million dollars.
What about “guerrilla growing"?
Guerrilla growing is essentially growing marijuana outdoors, on property that doesn’t belong to you. It could be government land, public or provincial parks, property that logging companies own, a vacant lot, behind an abandoned warehouse, or on a rooftop… Pretty much anywhere outdoors you can put some plants in and on property that isn’t yours… That’ll definitely be on the rise as well, especially with people like me wanting to keep certain strains. The only way I’ll be able to do that is if I grow it outdoors. You’ll see a rise in guerilla growing because of smart meters. It’s pretty difficult nowadays to grow indoors undetected.
That sounds like a lot of effort. Are people with more chronic diseases who can’t physically do that going to be forced to go to drug dealers?
I’m sure that’s what many are going to be doing. It’s going to depend on the quality of the marijuana through the legal channels and the problem with wait times. The product will have to go through Canada Post. One thing we haven’t come close to discussing is: Who’s going to pay for this? It should be covered by some sort of medical insurance.
Which it won’t be, because it won’t have a DIN number.
Right, it doesn’t have a Drug Identification Number! So we’re right back to before where you’re forcing me to use a medication or another form of medicine that I don’t want to use like a pharmaceutical, because they’re the only ones that are covered. Again, it’s an impediment to access to medicine. However on the other hand, due to the Mernagh case, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that we don’t have the right to medical marijuana, which I found odd because it goes completely against the Supreme Court ruling and the Terry Parker decision.
Do you have any hope? Justin Trudeau said that if he’s elected he’ll decriminalize marijuana.
I have some hope. I see decriminalization and at some point legalization. The reason why governments are approaching it now, or potential governments like Justin Trudeau’s, and others around the world is they can’t ignore the money anymore. When we have countries bringing in austerity measures how can we have them wasting more money chasing something that people want? Wouldn’t it make more sense to set up a program and make some money off of it? Instead they’re giving a gift to organized crime and automatically turning people who grow and use plants into criminals. Makes more sense to collect tax revenue and bring that into the open like alcohol and tobacco.
What’s the general feeling out in British Columbia about these changes?
There’s the Sensible BC push that’s going on for decriminalization in BC. In light of the government’s announcement it’s brought more attention to the initiative. I think you’ll find more people now realizing how we’re all getting screwed, and that will motivate the medical community to jump on board and bring the whole marijuana issue back to the forefront, which is good. In a way, the whole thing is backfiring on the conservatives. The last thing you want to do is start picking a fight with a disabled person. They tend to not give a shit and fight back like crazy people. The guy in the wheelchair may look docile, but I’ll tell you, I bet he’s holding a lot of anger in so when you start fucking with his medicine…
They’re willing to fight for it?
Oh yeah. Just from the tweets and Facebook statuses going around from people I know: the government better be ready for a big fight. Myself, I’m going to be shutting down and fighting the government in my own ways and I can assure you they’re going to be eating the biggest bowl of fuck they’ve ever seen.
If you could say anything to Stephen Harper right now what would it be?
Fuck you, buddy. I’m coming for you.
And Vic Toews?
Pretty much the same thing—get ready for a fight, guys, because you’re not popular. You stole the election, and I think enough rope has been played out that there’s enough to hang yourselves.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BMakuch
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