Canada's Conservative Government Extends Med Pot Program Contract
by Mindelle Jacobs, The Edmonton Sun (02 Jul, 2006) Two lawyers fight the one-grower-one-patient rule that many say is unconstitutional and does not meet medicinal marijuana exemptees' needs
[SIZE=-2][/SIZE]As much as the Conservatives would probably love to ditch the medical marijuana program, they have quietly extended the contract with the government's official pot grower. The five-year, $5.7-million deal the previous Liberal Government inked with Prairie Plant Systems, which grows Ottawa's weed in an abandoned mine in Manitoba, expired Friday (after a six-month extension was previously granted).
Now the contract has been stretched until the end of September while the feds put out a request for proposals for a new five-year deal. The Tories (the Conservative government) must wish the whole medical pot issue would just go up in smoke. In fact, things are about to heat up.
In a recent report, the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) slammed Ottawa's marijuana monopoly and urged the government to allow designated producers to grow pot for multiple people. Currently, the report noted, sick Canadians can buy government-grown pot, seeds from the government or grow their own. Medical pot users can also authorize someone to grow weed for them. But designated growers can only provide marijuana for one patient.
"We favour providing authorized persons with a variety of legal options and products," says the CAS paper. "Eventually, Canada has to develop an adequate model for the distribution of legal, safe and affordable medical cannabis to ensure that seriously ill Canadians do not continue to rely on the black market." It proposes, for instance, that Ottawa authorize compassion clubs to dispense medical pot.
The federal government may be tempted to ignore the report, but squirrelling it away on a dusty shelf won't work this time. Two lawyers on opposite sides of the country are poised to challenge the government's medical marijuana program on constitutional grounds.
In B.C., lawyer John Conroy is acting for people accused of growing pot for about 70 compassion club members - a breach of the one-grower-one-patient rule. "We're saying that the entire scheme is still defective," says Conroy. "It doesn't meet the requirements of (properly meeting the needs of the sick)." He agrees with the CAS that compassion clubs should be recognized as legal dispensers of medical pot. The trial is scheduled for the fall and if Conroy can't resolve the issue with the Crown, he expects to file a constitutional challenge of the Ottawa's entire pot program.
In Ontario, lawyer Alan Young is pulling on his boxing gloves for a similar battle against Ottawa's pot program. A couple near Ottawa is willing to grow medical pot for about 40 authorized users, but the government says the couple can only produce weed for one patient, says Young.
[SIZE=-2][/SIZE]Young is taking the case to federal court, arguing that the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs doesn't require state ownership of medical marijuana. "I'm not going to convince (Ottawa). A court's going to have to tell them they're wrong," says Young. There are people who want to grow pot for ill Canadians - and who would be willing to absorb much of the costs - but Ottawa is afraid of losing control, he charges. "They're afraid if they say there can be ownership (of pot), they'll be flooded with applications by lots of different people to grow."
Ideally, Young would like to see a court ruling that strikes down Ottawa's pot monopoly so the private sector can begin developing cannabinoid-based products from the naturally occurring plant - not just synthetically. And he agrees with the CAS that until those products are developed, Ottawa should allow designated producers to supply pot to multiple patients.
Government pot isn't necessarily bad; it's just that one strain of pot doesn't work for every ailment, says Young. The statistics speak for themselves. Of the 1,000 people allowed to cultivate pot for medical purposes, only 262 are ordering Ottawa's seeds. Obviously, Canadians are not gaga over government ganga.