12 August 2016
Canada’s Globe & Mail reports…
Health Canada is easing its prohibitions against safety testing of medical marijuana, which will allow registered growers and patients to have the product scrutinized at federally certified laboratories to ensure it is safe.
The federal government plans to legalize marijuana for recreational use next year, and the move will give added protection in an unregulated market to consumers, many of whom worry that some marijuana being sold as medicine could contain harmful contaminants.
Hundreds of storefront dispensaries have sprung up across the country, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver. The government considers them illegal, and had no oversight of their products, leaving medical users with no way to ensure their safety. The government did not allow patients access to federal labs capable of detecting potentially harmful contaminants.
“In recognition of the health and safety value of testing, the department is currently working to enable registered persons to access testing services for their own dried or fresh marijuana or cannabis oil,” Health Canada spokesman Eric Morrissette said in an e-mail. “This would enable individuals to have more information about the potency of the strains they are producing (i.e. THC and CBD levels), as well as information about any contaminants (e.g. heavy metals, microbial) or residues in their product.”
The shift follows a Globe and Mail investigation into the contents of marijuana from nine unregulated Toronto dispensaries. Tests showed that three of nine samples of dried cannabis would not meet Health Canada’s safety standards for licensed growers – with one strain showing signs of potentially harmful yeasts and mould. That investigation also revealed that labs have been warned not to test samples provided by anyone other than a licensed producer – a threat taken so seriously that the lab that tested for The Globe did so on condition that the newspaper would not identify it.
Much of the marijuana supplied to the dispensaries is suspected to come from the thousands of home growers who were licensed under a system that pre-dated efforts by the former Conservative government to force patients to turn to a handful of commercial producers. As the fight against that restriction progressed through the courts, those previously licensed home-growers were granted rolling injunctions to continue producing their own pot, sometimes in single crops of more than 100 plants each.
On Thursday, Health Canada said it is providing “an immediate solution” to a Federal Court ruling earlier this year that a ban on home-grown marijuana violated a patient’s Charter right to life, liberty and security of the person and ordered the federal government to make the drug more accessible and affordable.
Under the new regime, which takes effect on Aug. 24, patients who consume a gram a day – about the average prescription, according to Health Canada – can expect to be allowed to grow about two plants outdoors or five indoors (the two environments produce different yields). The licensed producers will remain the sole legal source of seeds and plants.
Health Canada officials said on Thursday that the licensed home-growers covered by the injunctions may continue producing the number of plants they currently grow – because processing all of the country’s medical marijuana users under the new system would swamp government officials.
“We would only seek to lift the injunction once we are confident that we could actually process the applications from individuals who are covered,” said Jacqueline Bogden, assistant deputy minister for the department’s cannabis legalization and regulation branch.
However, under the new rules, a dispensary may still be able to get marijuana illegally from these same growers and advertise that it has been tested by a Health Canada-approved lab.
However, Ms. Bogden said the dispensaries, storefronts and so-called compassion clubs that have proliferated in Canada’s major cities remain illegal.
“So, if you are an individual who requires access to medical cannabis today,” she said, “you can do that through one of the 34 licensed producers by Health Canada and you can be assured that what you are getting is produced in a safe and quality controlled manner.”
The Federal Court case that prompted the changes was launched by four B.C. patients who challenged the constitutionality of the former Conservative government’s 2014 overhaul of the medical marijuana system saying the commercial product was too expensive for them.
Kirk Tousaw, the Nanaimo-based lawyer who helped win their case, said the Liberal government has offered a “robust response” that is a big improvement from the past government’s responses to losing decisions on the file.
“I am very pleased that my well-earned pessimism and cynicism about the government’s medical cannabis actions have proven to be wrong with the new Liberal government,” he said.
But some of the licensed commercial producers – who grow their medical cannabis in large, secure facilities and mail it to about 60,000 patients – are not happy with the changes. Brent Zettl, the head of CanniMed Ltd., the first licensed commercial producer, called them a step backward for patients.
“There is no quality control, there is no inspection, there is no oversight,” he said. “So, at the end of the day you are going to ask yourself the question, well, you are granting them access to marijuana, but is it really medical?”
Colette Rivet, the executive director of the Cannabis Canada Association, which represents commercial growers, said home-growing creates increased risks of fire and home invasion.
“There are also potential negative impacts on the neighbours, the landlords, local services and law enforcement,” Ms. Rivet said. “And, of course, the other thing is security clearances to make sure the home growers have no ties with organized crime would be a good consideration, because it has been related in the past.”
The Canadian Pharmacists Association said it is disappointed that the government missed an “important opportunity to improve patient access and safety” by not allowing its members to manage and dispense medical marijuana – although it is encouraged that Health Canada is considering that as a potential option.
And the organization that represents Toronto’s marijuana dispensaries said the new rules do not go far enough to ensure safe and reliable access to medical marijuana because of “unnecessary sign-up requirements, costly health care system involvement, and limited access to the variety of strains to those currently owned by licensed producers.”
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/marihuana/index-eng.php
Health Canada Press Release:
Statement from Health Canada concerning access to cannabis for medical purposes
August 11, 2016
OTTAWA – In response to the Federal Court of Canada’s decision in Allard v. Canada, Health Canada today announced the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). The ACMPR will replace the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) as the regulations governing Canada’s medical cannabis program, and will come into force on August 24, 2016.
Health Canada is confident that the ACMPR provides reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes and addresses the issue identified by the Federal Court.
Under the ACMPR, Canadians who have been authorized by their health care practitioner to access cannabis for medical purposes will be able to produce a limited amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes, or designate someone to produce it for them. They will also continue to have the option of purchasing safe, quality-controlled cannabis from one of the 34 producers licensed by Health Canada.
Individuals wishing to produce a limited amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes, or to designate someone to produce it for them, will need to obtain authorization from their health care practitioner and register with Health Canada. Additional information on how to register and legally purchase starting materials will be available on Health Canada’s website on August 24.
Health Canada will work closely with provincial authorities, which regulate health care practitioners, to share data and information, such as the quantities of cannabis being authorized for medical purposes in their jurisdiction. Health Canada will also continue to support law enforcement representatives by providing a dedicated phone line that is accessible 24 hours a day and seven days a week to confirm, when necessary, that specific individuals are authorized to possess or produce a limited amount of cannabis for medical purposes.
The ACMPR will continue to be evaluated in an effort to ensure that individuals authorized to access cannabis for their own medical purposes have reasonable access. Health Canada is also committed to studying other models, including pharmacy distribution, to provide access to cannabis for medical purposes.
Canadians are reminded that access to cannabis for medical purposes is only permitted under the terms and conditions set out in these regulations. Storefronts selling marijuana, commonly known as “dispensaries” and “compassion clubs” are not authorized to sell cannabis for medical or any other purposes. These operations are illegally supplied, and provide products that are unregulated and may be unsafe. Illegal storefront distribution and sale of cannabis in Canada are subject to law enforcement action.
The ACMPR are designed to provide an immediate solution required to address the Court judgement. These regulatory changes should not be interpreted as being the longer-term plan for the regulation of access to cannabis for medical purposes, which is presently being determined as part of the Government’s commitment to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to marijuana.