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Corporatizing Marijuana

Health Canada reforms take medicine out of patients’ hands

by Megan Brunton

Changes called the Marijuana Medical Regulatory Reform (MMRR) risk punishing economically marginalized patients and growers, while pushing the herbal medication into the auspices of large scale pharmaceutical companies.

On Jul. 31, 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in R v. Parker that patients’ right to “life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice” are constitutionally protected. Therefore, Health Canada established the Marijuana Medical Access Program (MMAP) in 2012 with the chief mandate of providing safe, legal, and subsidized medicine to Canadians. MMRR proposed changes will raise the cost from $1.80-$5.00 per gram to $8.80 per gram in 2014 when the changes are expected to take effect. However, subsidization will be eliminated as Health Canada will no longer supply or grow medical marijuana. In the lead up, prices are expected to raise to $8.80 this year, said the CBC.

Effect on Patients

These changes will disproportionately affect economically marginalized people, as only those with debilitating medical conditions – ALS, HIV/AIDS, severe chronic pain, cancer, and epilepsy – are prescribed the plant. Individuals with these ailments are less likely to work and more likely to be living poverty. These changes will add pressure on a patient’s already stretched income in order to control their pain and increase their quality of life.

Being able to self-administer medicine enables the patient in control of her body, which is important for one’s psychological well being. Although smoking marijuana is one of the fastest way to administer THC, this method requires a heavy intake for the patient to see any real long-term benefits. Ultimately, it is up to the doctor and his patient to agree upon grams-per-day dosage. While many patients smoke between 1-3 g per day, some patients with multiple or severe medical conditions smoke 8-10 g, which may mean they require 224-300 g per month. Using 8 g as an example, under today’s subsidized formula, medical marijuana would cost an individual $403 to $1120 per month. If the MMRR is passed, the costs jumps to $1971.20 per month. The increased cost of medical marijuana will make it unaffordable for many current and future patients.

Effect on Growers

Health Canada’s proposed changes say that unsafe growing conditions are the main reasons to eliminate licenses for Personal Use Production Licenses (PUPL) and Designated Person Production Licenses (DPPL), following complaints by police and fire departments. MMRR claims that these unsafe conditions have caused fires, mildew, and mould problems. Yet according to multiple access to information requests to Health Canada concerning MMAP, there is no evidence of inspections taking place between 2008-2012, nor is there evidence of any reports concerning mildew, fire, and mould from fire or police officials. How does Health Canada know that growing operations were unsafe if they have no record of any inspections over the last four years? There is no evidence to support this claim.

Abolishing licenses is a group punishment placed on all patients without a shred of evidence regarding how it will make growing safer. Health Canada should be conducting an internal investigation within MMAP instead of removing a patient’s ability to grow his or her medicine when he or she has done nothing wrong. This regulatory move serves to criminalize small growers who depend on medical marijuana for legal income as well as paving the way for the corporatization of medical marijuana.  

Corporate Medication

Corporatization of marijuana may occur with dispensaries and the opening of medical marijuana as a legally marketable substance. There is nothing in the proposed regulations that clearly state how prices will be regulated for patients. It appears that the regulations create a free market system, in which price is determined by demand. The proposed regulations eliminate the possibility of growing outdoors, which is more environmentally sustainable. Indoor growing is more expensive and wasteful since marijuana requires light, water, and proper ventilation systems. The proposed regulations favor the factory farming of medical marijuana because large companies have the capital resources to invest in the building regulations, the electricity and water costs, and the security systems required to run a dispensary. MMRR would also allow dispensaries to import medical marijuana from other countries, further entrenching corporatized practices surrounding this important medicine.

Marijuana is at risk of becoming a highly priced pharmaceutical if these regulations are passed. Patients may turn to illegal means to acquire their medicine, or may grow it in their own homes without access to education surrounding safety standards. These new regulations will inevitably make criminals out of patients who are trying to manage their ailments with a medicine that works.

Compassion Clubs

The BC Compassion Club Society (BCCCS) does more than supply tested medical marijuana to patients. It acts as a support network for those with debilitating ailments and offers clinical, nutritional, and herbal counseling as well as yoga sessions for members. This holistic approach to medicine and recovery is not something that a dispensary can offer. These new regulations should explore the use of compassion clubs before allowing the corporatization of medical marijuana to take place.

As per R. v Parker, the government must have a plan in place to control marijuana prices for patients and they must publicly voice it. MMRR makes no mention of compassion clubs and the part they could play in supplying medicine to patients, running workshops on safe growing practices, and conducting community outreach to medical professionals. The MMRR argue that dispensaries will be better at quality control because their medicines will undergo testing, yet the BCCCS already has quality standards to which their suppliers must comply, including testing for heavy metals from fertilizer use, checking for mould, and microbiological testing.

It is clear that Health Canada does not have the interests of the patient in mind with these proposed regulations. They are, however, obliged to seek public comment on the MMRR until Feb. 28, 2013. The public is free to comment by emailing addressed to the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulatory Reform.

This article first appeared in the Leveller, Vol. 5, No. 5.

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