Removing the rights of patients and their designates to grow medical marijuana will be a giant step backward for Canada, driving up prices beyond the reach of many people in need and turning now-lawful growers into criminals.
Those were some of the key messages conveyed by about 40 patients and family members who rallied Feb. 21 in front of West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky MP John Weston’s constituency office in Sechelt.
The rally was part of a cross-Canada protest of the federal government’s proposed changes to Health Canada’s medical marijuana regulations.
Due to take effect in March 2014, the new system would centralize marijuana production in large-scale commercial operations under contract to Health Canada.
The changes “are going to at least quadruple the cost” for patients now growing their own medicine, said Eric Bills, who helped organize the Sechelt rally.
“The objectives here have nothing to do with the patient,” Bills said.
Dave Langford said his partner is a licensed patient who is seriously disabled and “he just can’t afford to pay any inflated price.”
Suffering from a slew of conditions, including diabetes and arthritis, his partner had been taking 12 narcotics at one time and was down to 115 pounds before he started using medical marijuana, Langford said.
“Contemporary medicine just doesn’t seem to do anything for him,” he said.
Riding up in his wheelchair with his dog perched on his lap, Jamie Young said he attended the rally to show that the patients targeted under the new system are not people who commit crimes, cause electrical fires or expose children to cannabis — some of the reasons cited by Health Canada for overhauling the system.
“People who legally grow and smoke marijuana aren’t involved in that. We invest in our communities and we just want something that makes our lives a little bit better,” Young said.
“I’m 30 and I spend about 85 per cent of my life in bed, and since I’ve started using marijuana medically I’ve stopped taking six different prescriptions — I’m down to two — and I’m doing better now than I have at any time in the last six months. The fact the rug’s going to be pulled out right under me just when I’m having a turnaround, it’s just not right.”
Sandra DeYoung said she and many other patients are fed up with the continuing stigma and bias shown toward marijuana users by the federal government.
“I’ve worked in government positions. I’ve raised a family. I worked for 37 years and then I became ill and this is the thing that has helped me,” DeYoung said. “We’re not criminals — we’re just normal, working everyday people. I volunteer my time. I pay my taxes and bills on time. I’m a good citizen.”
Another licensed patient at the rally said he intends to keep growing his own marijuana even if the proposed changes come into law. “There’s a fair bit of investment in what I’ve done,” he said. “I haven’t broken the rules up until now, but I guess I will.”
Others said they or their designated growers, though they had invested heavily in their operations, would likely stop producing if the new regulations come in, rather than risk going to jail.
Patient Anna Gamble said her main concern was the government’s mandatory minimum jail sentences for some marijuana possession offences, “which I think is casting much too broad a net.”
Many protesters predicted organized crime would be the biggest beneficiary under Ottawa’s proposed system, as high prices would drive patients back to the black market.
Another major concern, expressed by the Beyond Prohibition Foundation, would be the loss of medically valuable genetic strains developed by currently authorized and unlicensed producers.
The Vancouver-based foundation is urging Ottawa to retain personal caregiver and designated production and supplement the two with the proposed commercial system, while expanding the program to include edibles and other cannabis forms.
The group estimates between 400,000 and one million Canadians use cannabis for medical purposes.