Health Canada debating future of medical marijuana

Health Canada held a hearing in Montreal on Wednesday to hear from groups concerned about the future of medical marijuana in Canada. Legal use of the drug has been in a grey zone for almost a decade, since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled marijuana use for medical reasons was permissible. However acquiring marijuana has been a problem for thousands of would-be users. Many doctors have refused to provide prescriptions for marijuana, so compassion clubs and dispensaries were handing it out to anyone who showed up with what was considered to be a valid medical reason.

“I’m hearing from oncologists who won’t sign for patients because they’re afraid of potential legal repercussion for prescribing the medication,” said Adam Greenblatt of the Medical Cannabis Access Society. Montreal police recently shut down several compassion clubs following complaints that they had essentially turned into centres for drug trafficking. Marc-Boris St-Maurice, founder of the Bloc Pot and the federal Marijuana Party of Canada and a long-time director of Montreal’s compassion clubs, said he would argue that Health Canada has to stop attempting to provide marijuana to patients.

“We are recommending that dispensaries be licensed and regulated, and that a parliamentary committee be put together to study medical marijuana” said St-Maurice. The pot advocate says that Health Canada’s attempts to grow and provide marijuana have been a complete failure. “The quality of the product that Health Canada is making is not up to par.” The issue of medical marijuana is once again coming before the Supreme Court of Canada. Earlier this year Ontario’s Superior Court struck down laws prohibiting the growing and possession of marijuana, saying the provisions were “constitutionally invalid.”

The Government of Canada filed a notice to appeal the decision of the Ontario Superior Court on April 19, and the case is scheduled to be heard March 5 and 6, 2012. Last June Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced she would change Health Canada’s rules on access to cannabis so patients would be able to buy their pot from private, licensed providers. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the department said Ottawa will not outlaw medical marijuana, but said “the Government of Canada is very concerned that the current marijuana medical access program is open to abuse and exploitation by criminal elements.” Medical marijuana supporters say they want to make sure that new, tighter rules will benefit patients rather than law enforcement.

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