A private grow op. Photo via Flickr user The Other Dan
On Friday, the ideal time for anyone to come out with bad news, Health Canada—the Canadian government's health department—issued a statement about the country's new marijuana (or, as Health Canada often refers to it, "marihuana") regulations. The statement explained that Health Canada does “not endorse the use of marijuana” and went on to say that it will be “taking the necessary steps to protect public safety while providing reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes, as ordered by the Courts.”
What this means is that, when a new law goes into effect on April 1, Canada's roughly 40,000 medical marijuana patients will no longer be able to grow their own weed. Instead, they'll have to turn to the big-time grow ops that are being built and regulated all across the country. Patients will have to spend more money (these new legal grows will charge patients $4.50 to $7 a gram), while being provided with a more limited selection of cannabis.
Thus far, it seems that Canada’s new medical marijuana system will only sell buds—which means no waxes, oils, or edibles. For patients who are unable to smoke or vaporize—like lung-cancer sufferers—removing these products from the shelves greatly limits the efficacy of medical marijuana.
But the decision to limit the ways weed can be consumed is less important than Health Canada's crackdown on patients who are simply looking to grow a plant in their own home in order to treat their symptoms. The government has also issued a form that all medical marijuana patients need to fill out to confirm that they will be complying with the unwelcome change. If you're curious about what that form looks like, you can download the PDF from Health Canada here.
Apparently, Health Canada is quite serious about enforcing this marijuana-destruction policy, as it has 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's /r/Canada section, some patients have already experienced a heads-up from law enforcement about these new medical marijuana laws. In a March 15 post titled “RCMP Knocking on MMAR Patients Doors,” user CanadaGooses wrote:
Two days ago in the morning, the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] showed up on my doorstep. 2 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 I was not able to verify CanadaGooses's claim, there certainly is precedent for Canadian law enforcement and Health Canada being wildly out of sync with public opinion 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. According to a local news story, Tom blamed “Health Canada for telling him he could grow marijuana while waiting for the renewal of his medical marijuana licence.”
Clearly, if any medical marijuana patients don’t comply with Health Canada's new, big-grower-friendly system, they risk having their information shared with the police and could be targeted for arrest and prosecution.
I contacted Lisa Campbell, a Fort McMurray–based medical marijuana patient who's the outreach director at the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and asked for her thoughts on this seismic shift by the Canadian government. She wrote back:
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. Personally, I applied for a personal production license last summer while I was volunteering on an organic farm, which also had a designated grower licence. 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 parents' 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 [with the police], 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.
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 [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper!
Whether or not you join Mr. Mernagh in wishing butt cancer on law enforcement or health care officials, his outrage at the new regulations that will grant a marijuana monopoly to government-authorized corporate grow ops is completely understandable. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of patients, many of whom have debilitating diseases, have been stripped of the right to grow their own plants. While politicians like Ted Adlem, the 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 local authorities are on completely different pages.
Meanwhile, as the medical marijuana system braces for massive change, the Justice Department is supposedly planning to soften penalties for non–medical marijuana users by giving them tickets instead of criminal charges. But as the Toronto 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.”
Under these new regulations, everyone gets paid—the big grow ops cash in thanks to their government-aided monopoly, and the police can collect more fines from recreational marijuana users. This new system obviously does not have the interest, comfort, or health of medical marijuana patients in mind, however. With so much of the world moving toward legalization of marijuana, it’s unfortunate to see that Canada's moving in the opposite direction. Hopefully, next year’s federal election will shake up this system for the better.
Follow Patrick McGuire on Twitter.