Soon to be a Thing of The Past?
With the imminent legalization of cannabis for recreational use, many have wondered what will become of the medical systems currently in place. Now that cannabis is legal for all Canadians, is there a need for a medical system at all? Should sick Canadians still be required to wade through the lengthy registration process with Health Canada, or is that a violation of privacy? Many of us were not comfortable involving Health Canada in our medical treatment to begin with.
The only possible reason for a continued medical cannabis program would be to identify and monitor patients growing over the 4 plant recreational limit. Given that my garden has never been inspected in the 5 years that I have been a patient, I’m not sure how renewing my license annually is beneficial to them.
Cannabis has been used as medicine for thousands of years, including in North America until 1923 when it was criminalized. The Chinese were said to have used it to treat rheumatism, gout and poor memory as early as 2795 BC. There have been hundreds of studies over the past 50 years that have led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system and an understanding of how the various components of the cannabis plant react with the human body and the potential for medical benefit. Cannabis is now used in a variety of forms and various ingestion methods to treat a host of medical conditions. CBD oil has proven effective in reducing seizures, smoking and vaping the dried bud is used to control arthritis pain. Cannabis helps those suffering from PTSD and depression and is an appetite stimulant for cancer patients. While it’s not a ‘cure-all for whatever ails ya’, it is very good at treating the symptoms.
For years, medical cannabis patients were maligned by health professionals, law enforcement and politicians as scammers or fakers. It was alleged that we tricked the courts into granting us the right to use so we could ‘get high’ legally. We were treated with suspicion and made to feel like criminals. The Health Canada process was deliberately made difficult to discourage us ‘stoners’ from applying. This, despite the mounting evidence from scientific and medical research around the world pointing to the benefits of cannabis.
For those of you who are not familiar with the medical programs for cannabis, here is a condensed explanation. The current version is called “Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations” or ACMPR. This is the third named medical cannabis program implemented by Health Canada since 2000 when courts gave sick Canadians the right to use cannabis. The rules have morphed almost continuously since then, with the latest system brought in to replace the failed MMPR which took away a patient’s right to grow.
From the outset of legal medical use in Canada, the number one issue facing patients is obtaining a physician’s authorization. This process can take months or years and can involve travelling to a major centre to find a doctor that will not prescribe cannabis, but instead sign a form saying you have their permission treat yourself. The college of physicians and surgeons in every province issued warnings to doctors who signed the forms. Most were scared off, while some made out like bandits operating cannabis clinics charging hundreds or thousands of dollars to sign the forms. Not only is this a tiring, frustrating, degrading and expensive experience, it is a completely unnecessary burden on our medical system. If cannabis is safe enough for government to sell for recreational use, surely a grown adult can effectively use it for arthritis pain without a doctor’s assistance.
Next we get the absolute pleasure of dealing with Health Canada. Every bit as enjoyable as a root canal. Having to register your choice of medicine with the government organization that boldly states on their website “Marihuana is not an approved medicine in Canada” seems more than a little ironic, doesn’t it? They don’t hide that fact or their disdain for patients in their interactions. The forms your doctor signed are valid for 12 months and must be renewed in order to remain a legal patient. Health Canada takes between 4 and 6 months to process your registration, leaving you 6 months before you have to renew again. If you forget something or make a mistake, the process starts anew. What does the taxpayer gain from the millions of dollars we pay Health Canada employees to read and input each and every registration? Is there nothing else these highly paid public servants could be doing that would actually benefit Canadians?
Part of the reasoning when the rules were put in place was to allow Health Canada to share information with police to avoid black market growing and selling under the guise of medical. Not once have I heard of a legitimate patient/grower having their garden inspected. With every household potentially growing four plants, the chances of inspections will be zero.
There are a few of us who are currently legally growing and using medically under our original MMAR licences due to a court ruling. We are not required to see a doctor or re-register with Health Canada, but we are barred from making any changes or moving our gardens. We are living proof that the average Canadian is more than capable of using a herbal remedy to treat their ailments without the involvement of doctors or government.
With the implementation of the ACMPR the number of doctors willing to sign the forms increased slightly, but with a disturbing twist. Under ‘orders’ from the colleges, most physicians are only agreeing to a dosage of between 2 and 5 grams per day. This, I believe, was orchestrated by Health Canada and the legalization task force in order to reduce the number of plants the patient can grow. Historically, some large medical grows have diverted excess cannabis to dispensaries or the black market. With a new tax being introduced on the sale of cannabis, government wants to eliminate potential competition. But the most disturbing element was the sudden doctor – licensed producer relationships that sprung up out of nowhere. The doctors who have done a 180 and are now okay with authorizing cannabis as medicine, force you to sign with a specified LP as a condition of them signing the forms. One has to wonder what the doctor is being paid to give a single company exclusive access to every patient he signs up?
So now what? With every adult able to grow, possess and consume legally, is there really a need to continue the charade with Ottawa? How can government improve the current system to eliminate waste within Health Canada and simplify access for sick Canadians while protecting the fledgling new industry and their anticipated tax revenue, you ask?
The first thing that needs to change is the limit on the number of plants able to be legally grown in a residence. I understand the reasoning behind the limit but I disagree with the necessity. Growing a plant should not be a crime when the intent of the law is to control sales. There is no such restriction limiting the production of beer or wine for personal consumption yet diversion to the black market has not been an issue.
Cannabis cultivation requires an investment in time and learning to be successful and four plants is going to be plenty for most people to care for and use recreationally. The instances of diversion to the black market will drop dramatically with the availability of legal retail products, much the same way as bootleg booze did post-prohibition. Already, six months or more before legalization, the wholesale price of black market cannabis has plummeted. Every indication is that the price will continue to drop, making illicit cultivation and sale a losing, or much less profitable, proposition.
Medical users on the other hand would be free to grow an amount necessary to treat themselves without having to seek permission from either a doctor or the federal government.
Police forces have asked for and received hundreds of millions of dollars to prepare for and enforce laws around legal cannabis. This is in addition to the $500 million they currently spend annually on cannabis laws enforcement and prosecution. Crazy fun fact for you- a overwhelming majority of cannabis related charges (over 90%) are for simple possession. Now that possession is soon to be a legal activity, there is about a half billion dollars freed up to investigate and prosecute those who continue to sell illegally.
The proposed laws being introduced include harsh penalties for illicit sales or sale to minors that are more than adequate to discourage such activity and prosecute those who chose to break the law. Why place restrictions on the totality of the Canadian adult population when a very small number will actually be involved in criminal activity?
It’s seems a no-brainer to treat cannabis with the same rules as we do for beer and wine, and medical cannabis the same as a herbal medicine. There is no other group of sick Canadians who are forced into an unnecessary and extensive process in order to use a medicine. Would the public accept having to divulge personal medical information and seek approval from Health Canada to use any other medicine? Why does our government think it is okay for cannabis?
The costs associated with continuing with the ACMPR, both to taxpayers and to the patients themselves, are staggering and absolutely unnecessary. The solution is simple, easily implemented and protects the legal industry. There is 3/4 of a billion dollars available to enforce the stringent illicit sales laws and that is where the focus needs to be. Patients growing medicine are not the problem.
It’s time to demand an end to the oppressive, expensive and invasive medical cannabis system and grant sick Canadians the dignity to treat themselves with cannabis without interference from the government. If you are not a patient and are not affected by tis system directly, remember you are paying for the colossal waste of tax dollars along with the rest of us.
To plagiarize a quote by our current PM’s father:
“There is no place for the state in the medicine cabinets of the nation”.