Is the government deliberately messing with medical marijuana users or are they actually this stupid?
by Gregory Beatty
One side effect of smoking marijuana is supposed to be paranoia. Scientists found in a recent study that sparking up a doobie fires receptors in the amygdala, a region of the brain responsible for fear-based learning that causes the smoker to see patterns and connections where they don’t necessarily exist.
Not exactly shocking to anyone who’s smoked weed — but as the old saying goes: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.
A firestorm arose last week when Health Canada sent out letters notifying 40,000 licensees under the Marihuana Medical Access Program (MMAP) of impending changes to regulations governing their ability to use cannabis for medical purposes. Previously, Health Canada had communicated with them using registered mail and unmarked envelopes. This time though, it used regular mail — and envelopes that were clearly marked “Marihuana Medical Access Program.”
Robin Hove is a long-time sufferer of PTSD from an incident that occurred when he worked as a security guard, and an MMAP licensee who relies on cannabis to control symptoms of anxiety and anger management. When he received the letter from Health Canada, he was shocked that his privacy had been so recklessly breached.
“I’m disabled. So people know I’m not working, and that I get paid once a month. [Now] they also know I’m going to get my allotment [of cannabis] at the beginning of the month. So I’m subject to someone doing a home invasion, or following me when I go to get it. Other people in the program have similar fears. There’s a gentleman in Québec who’s putting his house on the market and getting ready to move.”
Depending on their ailment, MMAP licensees can possess 10 or more ounces of cannabis. On the black market, that would be worth around $2500, making them inviting targets for criminals, or even acquaintances who might pressure them to score weed for recreational use.
And despite society’s generally liberal attitude toward marijuana, a stigma still exists (in certain circles anyway) toward people who consume it. “It’s a huge issue,” says Hove. “I know a person who got hurt and is off work, but his wife’s a foster parent. He gets cannabis. When he got his letter, the first thing he thought was, ‘when is Social Services coming to take the kids away?’
“There’s a few of us who’ve given up trying to hide it, and feel if we don’t come out, we’re not going to get anywhere. But most don’t want anyone else to know, and they’re terrified since this letter came out.”
Once Health Canada’s privacy breach became news, deputy minister George Da Pont released a statement expressing regret at what he described as an “administrative error.” But Health Canada has been administering the MMAP since 2001, and is well aware of the importance Canadians place on the privacy of health information. How could it have screwed up so badly?
Maybe the MMAP community is being paranoid, but many believe it’s tied to the contents of the mailed-out letters — which outline changes to the regulations governing medical cannabis.
Currently, licensees have the option of either buying cannabis from Health Canada, growing it themselves or purchasing it from a licensed third-party grower. But as of March 31, 2014, licensees will no longer be able to grow their own medicine. Neither will they be able to purchase it from their current grower.
Instead, they’ll be required to buy it from a handful of large-scale growers licensed by Health Canada to produce cannabis under tightly regulated conditions.
The Harper government justifies the move by saying police have expressed concerns that some licensees under the old regulations were diverting a portion of their production to the black market. The government also alleges that some of them were growing in unsafe conditions, leading to toxic mould and fire hazards. To comply with the new regulations, licensees must destroy all marijuana in their possession — whether dried or in plant form — by March 31 and switch to a new grower.
That’s gotten MMAP community members thinking that Health Canada knew exactly what it was doing when it mailed the letters.
“I tend to agree with everyone who says Health Canada is outing us as medical cannabis users,” says Derek McKenzie of the Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Alliance of Canada (MCPA). “It’s four months now until our licenses are revoked, and then April Fool’s Day comes and the RCMP can knock on our doors. A lot of people are afraid of that.”
McKenzie disputes the government’s contention that current licensed growers are endangering public safety.
“The fire and mould they’re talking about, that’s with illegal grow-ops. The legal grow-ops patients have now are clean and all the electrical is done properly. Patients want their families and themselves to be safe. They’re not going to jeopardize their own houses.”
Many licensees who grow their own medical marijuana find it therapeutic, akin to gardening. It’s also cost-effective. Once they have their grow-op established, they can grow cannabis for pennies a gram. The projected cost under the new Health Canada regulations is $7.60 a gram.
Under the new regulations, licensees will be required to pay for their cannabis and related shipping costs by credit card. That might not be a big deal for the average person — but what is someone on social assistance or disability payments supposed to do if they don’t qualify for a credit card?
Significant doubts also exist about the quality of government-approved cannabis.
“It’s of very low quality,” says McKenzie. “Apparently it’s irradiated too. That’s done to eliminate mould and mildew, but if you’re growing the plant properly you shouldn’t have those problems.”
Under the current MMAP, over 25,000 Canadians are licensed to grow cannabis for their personal use or for other licensed users. In Saskatchewan, operations such as Green Canvas have a solid reputation for producing quality cannabis to treat different medical conditions. Other knowledgeable producers are out there too. But will Health Canada license them under the new regulations?
Prior to turning to cannabis, Hove says, “I spent five years on a combination of 17 different meds. It literally destroyed me. By accident, a doctor cut me off cold turkey, and I got on cannabis. And my life has improved dramatically.”
Many other MMAP licensees have similar stories to tell of spending years fruitlessly pursuing conventional medical treatments before finally finding relief with cannabis. For them, says McKenzie, “it feels like a life-or-death situation. And they don’t plan on backing down.”
Come April 1, there’s likely to be widespread civil disobedience as licensees refuse to destroy their existing supply of safe and effective medicinal cannabis. The MCPA (www.mcpacanada.org) is also contemplating legal action, says McKenzie. “We’re a registered non-profit, and we’re raising funds to mount a challenge to the new regulations. If we can raise $15,000, we can hire our lawyer in Ottawa and we’ll be good to go.”
As Prairie Dog went to press, Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper filed a proposed class action suit against Health Canada. Prairie Dog will continue to follow this story in future issues and online at prairiedogmag.com.