Health Canada was forced to create a safety net to prevent abuse after a handful of forged authorizations for medicinal marijuana surfaced, according to emails obtained by CBC News.
Emails released through federal Access to Information laws show that Health Canada was made aware of at least five instances last year where doctors’ signatures were forged on applications for medical marijuana.
In a related problem, specialists were also concerned general practitioners were falsely using their names to approve licences for patients.
In 2012, one specialist physician in British Columbia flagged to Health Canada that another doctor was using his name without his permission to authorize applications under a Category 2 classification.
Category 2 licences are given to patients with debilitating medical conditions and require the authorization of a medical specialist, according to Health Canada.
The doctor told Health Canada officials he had personally received copies of 15 authorizations for patients he did not approve and that 48 others were pending with the department.
The doctor eventually brought the documents to police.
'Dumping the responsibility'
But the problems forced Health Canada’s marijuana medical access program to beef up its security and add a layer of bureaucracy to the already complicated process.
If doctors are new to the program, Health Canada now verifies their endorsement, attempting to contact the doctor first by phone and then with a letter within five days to make sure the approval and the amount are authentic.
“If any of these clients apply with a new MD, we are going to get a confirmation of endorsement from the MD, regardless of who the new supporting medical practitioner listed is. This is to ensure no further forgeries are taking place,” said one email from March 2013.
The Canadian Medical Association has said doctors are worried about the program, arguing the federal government is “dumping the responsibility for medical marijuana” onto doctors by making them sign declarations.
The emails reflect some sensitivity to that complaint. One official even suggested removing any mention of possible forgery in the letters asking physicians to verify their endorsements.
“I also don’t want to scare doctors off of signing the medical declarations, which may happen if we leave those lines in,” a civil servant in the department wrote.
Statistics from Health Canada show that as of December 2013, 38,447 Canadians held an authorization for medical pot.
Medical marijuana approvals in Canada
- Female: 11,409
- Male: 26,536
- Alberta: 2,382
- British Columbia: 18,890
- Manitoba: 944
- New Brunswick: 806
- Newfoundland and Labrador: 193
- Northwest Territories: 29
- Nova Scotia: 1,942
- Nunavut: 6
- Ontario: 11,066
- Prince Edward Island: 84
- Quebec: 1,130
- Saskatchewan: 949
- Yukon: 26
Source: Health Canada, as of Dec. 2, 2013