Health Canada Inaction in Response to Court Decision Causes Continued Suffering, Says Canadians for Safe Access
November 27, 2003: Despite an October 7th Ontario Appellate Court decision that found Health Canada's Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) unconstitutional, Health Canada has yet to make the required court-ordered changes to the program.
The Ontario Appellate Court upheld an earlier ruling in the Hitzig case that forced the federal government to make cannabis available to 600+ MMAR license holders with a proven medical need for this herb.
In their ruling, the Appellate Court judges took the unusual step of amending certain restrictions found in the MMAR. The court struck down the requirement for a 2nd specialist, which they considered onerous and unnecessary. The court also removed limitations on the number of licensees that a designated 3rd party cultivator could supply, as well as a restriction on how many licensed cultivators could grow in one location. The judges ruling further allows for financial compensation for legal growers.
The stated goal of the Appellate Court was to establish a licensing protocol and a positive legal climate for Canadaís network of compassion clubs. The court decision reads:
" ...a central component of the Government's case is that there is an established part of the black market, which has historically provided a safe source of marihuana to those with the medical need for it, and that there is therefore no supply issue. The Government says that these "unlicensed suppliers" should continue to serve as the source of supply for those with a medical exemption. Since our remedy in effect simply clears the way for a licensing of these suppliers, the Government cannot be heard to argue that our remedy is unworkable."
This order was effective immediately, with the Appellate Judges specifically pointing to the violation of rights that would occur should this decision be delayed or suspended: " ...To suspend our remedy if they may die in the meantime is, in our view, inconsistent with fundamental Charter values." In spite of this, Health Canada has failed to enact the changes ordered by this court.
"Sadly, Health Canada has turned what should be an important health issue into a court matter," says Alison Myrden, one of the Hitzig complainants and a legal user of cannabis. "Their inaction is literally putting lives at risk."
According to a study presented by Michelle Furler at the 2003 Ontario HIV Treatment Network Research Conference, nearly 1 in 3 (29%) of HIV patients in Ontario are currently using cannabis for medical purposes [i]. Health Canada's Office of Cannabis Medical Access, which currently licenses only 150 people a year, is completely unprepared and unsuited to helping this number of chronically ill.
Canadians for Safe Access questions why Health Canada is prolonging the suffering of some of Canadaís sickest citizens.
"It's time for Health Canada to live up to its numerous court obligations by recognizing the legitimacy of compassion clubs" states Philippe Lucas, Director of Canadians for Safe Access and a legal user of cannabis, who adds that the decision to use therapeutic cannabis should be made between a health care practitioner and a patient. "Why should a bureaucrat in Ottawa whom I've never met be the final judge of whether or not I qualify to use medicinal cannabis? We could learn much from the Dutch medical cannabis program, where cannabis is immediately available with a simple doctor's recommendation The success of our national medicinal cannabis program depends on its immediate decentralization; as the Ontario HIV/AIDS study shows, people's lives depend on safe access to cannabis right now."
Canadians for Safe Access (www.safeaccess.ca) is a non-profit medicinal cannabis patients rights group.