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  1. Alfa
    THERE'S GOOD NEWS, AND THERE'S BAD NEWS

    On the 18th of February, Health Canada organized a large-scale consultation
    on its highly criticized federal medical marijuana program. For the first
    time since it's creation over 5 years ago, the Office of Cannabis Medical
    Access (OCMA) had the foresight to invite a small number of Canadian drug
    policy reform and medicinal cannabis advocates. Philippe Lucas, editor of
    the DSW's hemp and cannabis section, was in attendance at this meeting as
    Director of Canadians for Safe Access http://www.safeaccess.ca The
    following feature article is based on an online report he compiled for
    fellow activists.

    The good news is that with the collapse of category 2 into category 1
    we're slowly getting to the point where a simple doctor's recommendation
    will be enough to access cannabis, although it is hard to understand how
    this change is to have any real impact as long as the CMA [ii] and CMPA
    [iii] stay opposed to the MMAR [iv] in theory and principle. Furthermore,
    for those isolated small communities that don't have medical specialists in
    the first place, these policy changes don't mean a thing.

    More (sort of) good news is that Health Canada will be looking to contract
    more than 1 cultivator when they put in an RFP[v] at the end of this
    year. Further details revealed during the meeting suggest that the
    government will be hiring 2 cultivators (PPS [vi] and another, in my
    opinion), as they have suggested that they would like to make 2 strains
    available through drugstores by year's end.

    The most frightening developments stemming from this meeting are: 1) HC's
    plans to make disclosure to police a mandatory requirement for joining the
    program; and 2) the threat that HC plans to eliminate all DPL and PPL [vii]
    in the near future, forcing all legal users to use federally-supplied cannabis.

    In regards to the first, the concerns are many, but begin with the logical
    assertion that those who use this medicine should not be discriminated
    against through onerous policies that betray their rights to privacy. This
    proposal stems from pressure from the national police orgs. who would like
    to continue to bust grow-ops without having to worry about shooting a
    cancer patient. It ignores our rights and our concerns over privacy, and
    continues to place policing concerns over those of Canada's legal
    exemptees. Professionals (teachers, lawyers, doctors...) may have
    job-related concerns over the involuntary sharing of this information, as
    might anyone who travels to the U.S. (where any such info. would surely
    raise alarms at border crossings). Furthermore, insurance companies are
    refusing coverage to homes where cannabis is being stored or cultivated,
    even legally - this is an unsolved dilemma for participants in this program.

    In regards to the second, there is little logic in limiting the supply
    options for Canada's legitimate users of therapeutic cannabis. If
    exemptees can get the strains that help them grown safely and locally, what
    is gained by disallowing this form of self-supply and forcing exemptees to
    use a poor quality, potentially dangerous federally-grown product? Cannabis
    is different than other pharmaceuticals or over the counter-drugs in that
    it can be safely produced by the user; so why impose the cost of the
    federal supply on those who would rather use a known strain grown in a
    method of their own chosing (i.e. organics vs. HC's non-organic
    cultivation)? There is no justification for allowing this kind of federal
    monopoly on cultivation; exemptees will lose much choice and freedom - and
    gain nothing - from this policy shift.

    Lastly, it is clear that although compassion clubs and societies have been
    invited to this round of consultation, Health Canada has no plans to ever
    license, regulate, or legalize these orgs. When I asked Beth Pieterson and
    Valerie Lasher [viii] whether they could foresee a role for the clubs
    within the present of future of the HC program, they stated that they
    couldn't, although they expressed that compassion societies may wish to put
    in a proposal to cultivate cannabis for the feds when the RFP comes out
    later this year.

    Considering that Canada's compassion clubs are currently involved in far
    more legitimate research than Health Canada, that clubs have a membership
    that is roughly 10 times that of the federal government, and that far more
    exemptees seek out their supply of cannabis from clubs than from the
    government, their reluctance to work with compassion societies is
    inexcusable, and is surely adding to the unnecessary suffering that this
    program should be addressing in the first place. When I inquired as to why
    HC was not interested in developing a more cooperative relationship with
    the clubs, I was told that it is because they are illegal. After pointing
    out that according to the CDSA they could be legally licensed in a moment's
    time at the sole discretion of the Minister of Health (and that they are
    therefore no more illegal than pharmacies, which will need the same to
    begin to distribute cannabis), Beth changed the subject and stated that
    licensing the clubs would violate our "international obligations". This
    is, of course, ridiculous since the production and distribution of
    controlled substance is clearly exempt from the UN Single Convention as
    long as it is for medical purposes. In other words, HC's intransigence
    regarding compassion clubs amounts to nothing more than an unjustified
    monopoly, and shows no regard to actually helping sick Canadians.
    Considering the incredible contribution of Canadian compassion clubs and
    societies to medicinal cannabis cultivation, distribution, and safe use, it
    is an inexplicable shame that Health Canada has displayed neither the
    creativity nor the common sense to work more closely with the clubs.

    I would like to end by pointing out is that this is Health Canada's vision
    for this program; this is not our vision. This doesn't anticipate or
    account for future court battles, continued exemptee concerns, or
    constitutional challenges; it doesn't anticipate changes in government,
    increased public pressure, or for a sudden unexpected influx of compassion
    from our federal government. Ever since the start of this program,
    activists and exemptees have worked hard to ensure that the needs and
    concerns of Canada's critically and chronically ill are addressed by our
    federal govt. When they have failed to listen or pay heed to our
    well-meaning advice, we have been forced to go to the press and public,
    and/or to the courts; and more often than not, we have succeeded. As a
    community, we continue to make a huge difference. Until Health Canada
    finally shows the common sense to decentralize this program and to allow
    for non-profit, community-based cultivation and distribution (saving
    themselves money, resources, and legal difficulties), compassion clubs will
    continue to supplement their anemic, ineffective program, and together with
    cannabis reform activists from all over the country, we will work towards
    and fight for a better system for us all.

    Footnotes:

    Under the MMAR, applicants to the federal program fall into 3
    categories: Category 1 for terminal patients, requiring only 1 physician's
    recommendation; Category 2 for (somewhat arbitrary) serious chronic
    illness, such as AIDS or MS, requiring the support of both a specialist and
    physician; and Category 3, a catch-all for all remaining conditions,
    requiring the support of a physician and 2 specialists.

    [ii] Canadian Medical Association, Canada's national medical association.

    [iii] Canadian Medical Protection Association, Canada's largest medical
    insurance company.

    [iv] The Medical Marijuana Access Regulations are the federal rules
    governing the implementation of this program.

    [v] Request for Proposals

    [vi] Prairie Plant Systems, the current federally contracted cultivator,
    who's initial crop was widely criticized for it's poor quality.

    [vii] Designated Person Licenses and Personal Production Licenses, both of
    which allow for the non-governmental production of cannabis.

    [viii] Beth Pieterson is the Director of the Controlled Drugs And
    Substances branch of Health Canada, and Valerie Lasher is the
    Acting-Director of the Office of Cannabis Medical Access.

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