Medical pot users can choose supplier: court

January 11, 2008

Anne Kyle, Saskatchewan News Network, Regina Leader-Post (Canada)

REGINA -- Medical marijuana users such as Tom Shapiro will now have more choices when it comes to finding a supplier as a result of a Federal Court ruling striking down a key government regulation governing the controversial program.

The Regina man, who was diagnosed with HIV-AIDS in 1989 and is registered with Health Canada as a medical marijuana user, applauded Thursday's ruling, which found the regulation limiting growers of medical marijuana as unconstitutional.

Federal Court Judge Barry Strayer essentially grants medical marijuana users more freedom in picking their own grower, rather than being forced to rely on the federal government as a supplier. The decision also allows growers to supply the drug to more than one patient.

"I think it is great. It's a step in the right direction in regards to designated production licensees within that program run by Health Canada," Shapiro said Friday.

"This is definitely good for the designated grower. We can now have people get together and grow medical marijuana like gardeners in a community garden. Take a warehouse -- we can have multiple growers in there and that would work great."

Currently, medical marijuana patients can grow their own supply of pot, but designated growers can't supply the drug to more than one user at a time.

The federal government had argued medical users who can't grow their own pot can obtain it from its contract producer Prairie Plant Systems Inc. (PPS), a Saskatoon-based company that produces the marijuana in Flin Flon, Man.

In his decision Strayer wrote: "In my view it is not tenable for the government, consistently with the right established in other courts for qualified medical users to have reasonable access to marijuana, to force them either to buy from the government contractor, grow their own or be limited to the unnecessarily restrictive system of designated producers."

Ron Marzel, a Toronto lawyer representing the group of medical users who mounted the Federal Court challenge, called the decision a "God-send to the patients."

"Up to now the patients haven't been able to get a legal source of supply that meets their needs. The PPS supply hasn't met their needs," he said.

Marzel said many patients have been forced in the past to get their supply elsewhere or to get it on the black market -- compassion clubs that do not have a licence from Health Canada and operate without any regulatory oversight.

"In my experience they do a fabulous job supplying these patients with the medication that they need. But the reality is that these compassion clubs could be busted on a dime without notice at any given moment and they realize that," Marzel said.

"Some of them have been raided and busted by the police and if that happens these patients are out of luck when it comes to accessing supplies (of medical marijuana)."

Marzel said this ruling opens the door to a cottage industry where designated producers approved and licensed by Health Canada can supply a reliable source of medical marijuana to 30, 40 or 50 patients.

"The only downside of this ruling is -- the Crown is going to send me its notice of appeal next week," he said.

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