Medical marijuana users worry about lack of commercial supply

New federal government regulations for medical marijuana will take effect in less than two weeks, making it illegal for Canadians to grow their own medical pot. However, many are worried about adequate supply, especially as only three commercial growers are fully up and running.

Only 3 licensed commercial growers are fully up and running as April 1 deadline looms

Canada's new medical marijuana regulations will take effect on April 1, making it illegal for users to grow their own batches. Many are worried that commercial growers won't have enough supply, especially as only three producers are ready to go. (CBC)

Canadians who grow their own medical marijuana will see their licences expire on March 31 to pave the way for new federal government regulations, which will only allow supply from commercial growers.

However, less than two weeks before those new rules will take effect on April 1, CBC News has learned that only three licensed medical marijuana producers are fully up and running. 

Bedrocan Canada Inc., CanniMed Ltd., and Mettrum Ltd. are the only licensed producers who are ready to go, out of the 11 listed on Health Canada's website — fewer than the 20 that the government agency expected to have by now. 

And it's making medical marijuana users nervous. 

Mike Sandev has been licensed to grow his own medical marijuana for four years to treat his epilepsy. 

But come April 1, producing marijuana at home will be illegal. And according to a Health Canada news release sent out March 14, if growers under the old program don't get rid of their supply of marijuana and plants, the department will tap police to get involved. 

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"They want me to destroy my medicine because I'm supposed to trust them, but what I see of them is that nobody is ready," he said.

A 'real dilemma'

Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver lawyer, has a lot of clients who are worried there won't be enough medical marijuana by the time the deadline hits, which presents "a real dilemma." 

"You're actually going to have to go without medicine or face the possibility of being targeted for a police investigation, arrest and prosecution," Tousaw said.

Sandev sees the same scenario playing out.

"You know, being threatened of being prosecuted for consuming medicine that I've had for years now, that I know works for me, is another thing that I find completely crazy." 

Sandev is worried that the strains of marijuana produced by commercial growers won't be effective enough for his condition. 

In an earlier interview with the CBC's Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current, Sandev said the plants he grows himself "are a little fussy," and because they're expensive to grow, it might not be commercially wise for others to produce. 

"Every genetic is accustomed to one person because we are all different and we all have different illnesses necessary to heal with medical marijuana," he said. 

"Unless [the government is] able to come up with about 150 different kinds, for all the different kinds of illnesses in people, I have a doubt that their system is going to work."

That type of specificity could also mean medical marijuana patients have to pay more money.

Sandev said it will cost him "about seven times more" to purchase from commercial growers. 

"Basically, I cannot consume my medicine the way I was before," he said.

Tousaw said presently, there are thousands of Canadians who supply their own medicine at no cost to the public health system. 

"That medicine — the cannabis medicine — replaces other pharmaceutical substances and does a better job for the patients," he said. "And so now what you're going to see is people simply can't afford to buy from licensed producers are either going to go without medicine or go back to pharmaceuticals — which is going to increase the burden on the Canadian taxpayer."

Health Canada stockpiled medical pot

In response to a request for comment, Health Canada directed CBC News to court documents from a civil suit filed against it relating to licensed medical marijuana growers seeking reparations for alleged limitations the new rules would impose.

According to a signed affidavit by Health Canada employee Todd Cain, the department said commercial growers are able to purchase seeds or plants from licensed individuals until March 31, which would make it possible for a licensed producer to cultivate and sell an individual's preferred strain of marijuana. 

But while the three licensed commercial producers mentioned earlier are good to go, the rest have only a few strains ready and won't even be able to start shipping until the summer. 

Health Canada insists, however, that there will be enough supply on April 1.

Cain's affidavit states the department has stockpiled some medical marijuana in response to a noticeable increase in demand since last October, as well as secured 400-500 kilograms of dried marijuana in case of a supply shortfall during the transition period. 

CanniMed Ltd., one of the department's licensed commercial growers, released a statement Wednesday affirming that it will have enough in stock to meet an additional 10,000 patient orders by April 1. The company is currently expanding to meet a total patient capacity of 25,000 by the end of June.

Health Canada also plans to import more than 100 kilograms from the Netherlands between January and May 2014.

The department said it continues to receive an average of 25 applications for production licences per week.