CannabisMedical Marijuana in Canada: where do we go from here?

September 23, 2019by Esther Simmons-Foot0

It should be no surprise that it was the people who needed medical marijuana the most that fought the hardest for it to be legalized. Famously, Terry Parker appealed to the charter rights to “life, liberty, and security” after being arrested in Ontario for possession, cultivation, and trafficking in 1996. It wasn’t his first brush with the law over marijuana possession but this time he decided to fight back and this marked our path to legalization in Canada.

Parker developed epilepsy after being hit in the head by a swing when he was 4 years old. Heavy doses of antiseizure drugs were ineffective, and radical brain surgeries (i.e. removal of his right temporal lobe) against his will when he was a teenager made his seizures worse. Thankfully, Parker was introduced to cannabis soon after and he and his doctor noticed that his seizures were drastically controlled when he smoked marijuana.

Without cannabis Parker lived with uncontrollable seizures and was hospitalized numerous times. Smoking marijuana was necessary for him to have a quality of life and likely save his life. Compassionately, the trial judge agreed that Parker’s rights had been violated and ordered the police to return the 71 plants they had seized. Four years later, 31 July 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal made a landmark decision in Parker’s case stating that the law prohibiting marijuana possession and cultivation was unconstitutional because it did not consider people who required it out of medical necessity. If you would like to read more about Terry Parker and hear him speak about his case please check out the CBC archives at https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/canadas-marijuana-laws-declared-unconstitutional.

The high courts deemed the law too broad, putting Canadians in the unfortunate situation of having to choose between their health or jail. One year later in 2001, the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) was created giving hundreds of patients exemptions to cultivate and possess cannabis. Under the MMAR patients were allowed to grow themselves or designate someone to grow for them. Over time growers became more organized and cannabis became more accessible for people with a reliable contact. Compassion clubs and marijuana dispensaries started to pop up in cities that were tolerant. The medical marijuana culture matured and more and more people came to rely on these growers and suppliers for their medical needs.

The government saw that they were losing control of the industry and decided in 2013 to change the MMAR to the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) that banned growing, only allowing patients to purchase dried flower from a licensed producer. The MMPR claimed that people growing in their homes could harm those exposed to the plant, pose security and fire risks. This new law was quickly challenged in the Allerd vs Regina (BC Supreme Court) where the lawyers argued that these “potential” risks involved in growing were factually inaccurate and that forcing people to buy from a licensed producer was cost prohibitive. The courts agreed stating that the MMPR created an unreasonable barrier to access and was amended in 2016 and replaced by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

Thus, medical marijuana has been available through these various legal incarnations since 2001 and nothing has really changed. Patients are required to have a doctor sign a medical document (prescription) and register them with a Health Canada approved Licensed Producer. The prescribed medical marijuana is delivered to either the physician’s office or the patient’s home. However, now that marijuana is legal many people want to try it to treat or cure their symptoms. Yet there is less advice and support than ever before as traditional marijuana dispensaries are being replaced by the recreational market.

Prior to legalization theses quasi-legal medical dispensaries would only sell to a person who presented a medical document or a prescription from a doctor. Although, it was never clear if the dispensary checked to see if it was a valid prescription – but you definitely needed it to buy anything. In a way these businesses operating in the grey-market were policing themselves in the hopes that the authorities would let them be. Many believed that this self-regulation would mean that once cannabis was legalized they would be grandfathered into the new legal framework.

However, it was never the goal of the government to create greater access for medical patients but instead to capture the recreational market and squash illegal suppliers of marijuana. Sadly for patients seeking medical cannabis there is less access than ever. Consequently, medical users will continue to get their cannabis therapies from a well-entrenched grey-market gone underground, or more correctly online, or buy from a Canada approved recreational outlet.

Legalization means that more people are interested in trying and learning about medical cannabis but its availability as a recreational product makes doctors even more nervous about recommending it to their patients. This is too bad for the many people that could benefit from getting advice and support to use cannabis in low safe doses to improve symptoms for many difficult-to-treat conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, neurodegenerative disorders, and certain cancers.

Instead, people are going it alone. But you don’t have to. There are medical practitioners out there who are listening and want to help. Cannabis is not a one-size-fits-all therapy and each person will need an individualized protocol depending on the condition you are treating, the pharmaceutical therapies you take and the goals that you have. At the Wellness Pharmacies it is our goal to empower you with knowledge and provide guidance to find the right product, strain, and dose that works for you.

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