This article also appeared on VICE Canada
On Friday, the ideal time for any government to release bad news, Health Canada issued a public statement outlining their new medical marijuana (or as they often refer to it,marihuana) system. In it, Health Canada explains that they do “not endorse the use of marijuana” while adding that they will be “taking the necessary steps to protect public safety while providing reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes, as ordered by the Courts.”
When these new laws go into effect on April 1st, existing medical marijuana patients will no longer be able to grow their own weed. Instead, these roughly 40,000 registered Canadian marijuana patients will have to turn to corporate, legal grow-ops that are being built and regulated all across the country. This means that patients will have much higher costs (Canada’s new legal grows will charge these patients $5-$7.50 a gram), while also being provided with a more limited selection of cannabis.
Thus far, it seems that Canada’s new corporate medical marijuana system will only sell buds - which means no waxes, oils, or edibles. That may seem like a minor deal (though, of course, weed culture worldwide has diversified greatly to enjoy these variants) but for patients who are unable to smoke or vaporize, like lung cancer sufferers, removing these products from the catalog greatly limits the efficacy of Canada’s medical program.
Variety aside, Health Canada is stripping the rights of patients nationwide who are simply looking to grow a plant in their own home that they use to treat their symptoms. The Canadian government has also issued a form, which all existing medical marijuana patients need to fill out, in order to confirm that they will be complying with the unwelcome change. If you want to see what a government form designed to destroy Canada’s newly illegal medical marijuana supply looks like, you can download the PDF from Health Canada here.
In Section B of Health Canada’s “Notification Form,” patients are asked “Did you destroy dried marijuana/seeds?” and “Did you destroy marijuana plants?” with an extra field to indicate how much marijuana was eviscerated to comply with this new system. Apparently, Health Canada is quite serious about enforcing this marijuana-destruction policy, as they have clearly stated: “If participants do not comply with the requirement to notify Health Canada, the Department will notify law enforcement.”
According to a report posted on Reddit, some patients have already experienced a heads-up from law enforcement about these new medical marijuana laws. In a post published on Reddit Canada entitled “RCMP Knocking on MMAR Patients Doors,” one user wrote: “Two days ago in the morning, the RCMP showed up on my doorstep. Two plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle wearing their Kevlar, and armed. Drug squad, I believe. They wanted to make us aware of the new laws going into effect on April 1st, and started asking questions about my husband's production license. This is information they should not have had, as it is private medical information.
I reached out to a few friends who also have their MMAR licenses, who reached out to their friends, and etc. We're not the only people who have had visits from the RCMP in the last few days, and all of them with production licenses.”
While VICE News was not able to verify this Reddit user’s claim, there certainly is precedent for Canadian law enforcement and Health Canada being wildly out of sync when it comes to medical marijuana patients. In 2006, while waiting for his medical marijuana license to be renewed, AIDS sufferer Tom Shapiro from Regina had his plants seized by police. Tom blamed “Health Canada for telling him he could grow marijuana while waiting for the renewal of his medical marijuana license.”
What’s clear is that Health Canada is at the ready to release the information of medical marijuana patients, who don’t comply with their corporate-friendly medical weed plan, if they haven’t begun to do so already.
VICE News reached out to Lisa Campbell, the Outreach Director over at Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and a Fort McMurray–based medical marijuana patient, for her thoughts on this seismic shift by the Canadian government. She wrote: “As a medical cannabis patient I am extremely offended by Health Canada's latest attempt to control ‘marihuana.’
Not only can they not decide how they want to spell it, they are criminalizing patients by disclosing their personal health information, whether through mail outs or directly sharing data with the RCMP.
I applied for a personal production license last summer while I was volunteering on an organic farm, which also had a designated grower license. Inspired by my experience watering the plants during sunset, I thought I would apply in order to save money and have more choice of strains than the Prarie Plant System shwag. I ended up using my permanent address at my parent’s house, so now I'm finding out that if I don't fill out this new form then the government will send the RCMP to their house. I am outraged that our government would share personal health information for criminal purposes, especially as I never even ended up growing. Hemp seeds aren't even illegal in Canada, and I enjoy them in my oatmeal and smoothies every morning.
I still have the leftover shitty Health Canada weed, which is so low in THC I use it like tobacco batch for joints. After learning how high it tested in heavy metals and how bad quality it is, I have no qualms getting rid of it. What worries me is the patients and designated growers who have put years of work into developing strains to treat their symptoms. Now the new licensed producers are able to buy clones from the former designated growers, so they are basically forced to sell their intellectual property with no ability to negotiate on price.”
Matt Mernagh, Toronto mayoral candidate and marijuana advocate, had a much more harsh statement: “This is a heinous act! Words do not describe how awful these motherfuckers are acting. This has nothing to do with public safety but RCMP orchestrating a boot-fucking to some of Canada’s sickest citizens. The person who came up with this plan is a monster. The Minister of Health is taking direction from the RCMP. This is a huge police action. The man is picking on the sick and dying because they are cowards. Fuck these people! Any RCMP officer or Health Canada official engaged in this plot deserves to get asshole cancer and die a miserable death because they took away natural medication away from others. Heil Harper!”
Whether or not you join Mr. Mernagh in wishing butt cancer on law enforcement or health care officials, his outrage at this new, highly-regulated medical marijuana system - which will provide a monopoly to government-authorized, corporate grow-ops that will be the exclusive merchants to medical marijuana patients in Canada - is completely understandable. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of patients, many of whom have debilitating diseases and sicknesses, have been stripped of the right to grow their own plants. While politicians like Ted Adlem, mayor of Mission, British Columbia, insist: “I don't think any municipal police department is going to go and try and search for somebody who is growing for their own personal use," it seems as if Health Canada and the RCMP have different intentions.
Meanwhile, as the medical marijuana system braces for massive change, the Justice Department is supposedly planning to “soften” penalties for non-medical marijuana laws by removing some criminal code provisions, in favor of a more open-liquor style ticketing system for police. As the Globe and Mail pointed out: “One critic said the move, if implemented, could be more onerous for recreational marijuana users, as police who turn a blind eye to it now would instead start writing tickets.”
There’s obviously a lot of government money to be made when it comes to authorizing corporate grow-ops, while collecting fines from recreational marijuana users. This new system obviously does not have the interest, comfort, and health of medical marijuana patients in mind as the top priority; and the Justice Department’s move towards a falsely soft enforcement policy makes that even clearer. With so much of the world moving towards a more open system of legalization, it’s unfortunate to see Canada move in the opposite direction. Hopefully next year’s federal election will shake up this system for the better.
Follow Patrick McGuite on Twitter: @patrickmcguire