Health Canada is changing its policies when it comes to allowing citizens to legally grow medical marijuana.
As of April 1, 2014, all growth permits will be moot and it will fall to doctors to prescribe medical marijuana.
“The main object of this reform … is to treat marijuana as much as possible as other medications that contain narcotics,” said Jeannine Ritchot with Health Canada.
“The simple fact is that you can't grow or produce your own narcotic medications, so in moving this way we are treating marijuana on the same plane that we do treat other drugs.”
This puts doctors in a tough position, says the Canadian Medical Association.
“All of a sudden physicians are supposed to be the gatekeepers. I can see why the government did it. It sort of washes their hands of the problem and it dumps the problem into the medical profession,” said CMA president Dr. Louis Francescutti.
“Here is a product that is totally untested, there has been no clinical trials to tell us exactly how to prescribe it safely for patients – and so now physicians are being asked to blindly prescribe something,” Francescutti added. “I can guarantee you that the majority of physicians will probably not prescribe medicinal marijuana."
An impossible decision
Tamara Cartwright-Poulits, who was diagnosed with colitis 20 years ago, has been legally growing her own supply of marijuana for three years.
She says other legal narcotics used to treat her condition leave her feeling tired and depressed. Marijuana is the only thing that helps.
However, under the new rules coming in next year, Cartwright-Poulits’ home garden will need to be scrapped, leaving her to decide between paying high government prices for licensed marijuana, or taking her chances with a drug dealer, she says.
Right now, it costs Cartwright-Poulits about 50 cents to grow a gram of marijuana at home, but licensed producers will charge at least $8.80 a gram – a huge mark-up for her.
“They're making criminals out of us … they're criminalizing patients. We're not going to have any other choice … it’s cheaper for me to go to the streets to buy cannabis even now.”
“I don't know what [I'm] going to do,” she said. “I can’t keep continuing to grow. I have a son and I’ve got too much to lose.”
‘This isn't something they've prepared for in medical school’
Carrie, who asked that her identity be concealed, uses a vaporizer to help inhale medical marijuana, which she uses to treat severe arthritis and joint pain.
Like Cartwright-Poulits, she grows her own to keep costs down.
“We're sick, we're not financially affluent people, generally. Most people that are growing – have their own gardens – are doing so because it costs so much to buy it any other way,” she said.
Next year, Carrie will not only have to get rid of her own supply, she will need to get a prescription.
This worries her, as it took years to find a doctor willing to sign off on the Health Canada forms allowing her to grow her own medical marijuana in the first place.
“It's not something that they can be expected to know about. How can they? This isn't something they've prepared for in medical school.”
While some users have filed an injunction against the government protesting the new rules, Carrie is not optimistic.
“This is only going to boom the black market. Because we won't have anywhere else to go … We'll be stuck between a rock and a hard place. And it's only going to make illegal grows bigger.”
Despite the controversy, the government is going ahead as planned. Licensed producers will start selling medical marijuana in the next few weeks through secure mail.