Data obtained by the Ottawa Citizen through the Access to Information Act put a face to the typical medical marijuana patient for the first time, 10 years after the federal government — under pressure from a series of legal rulings — was forced to start allowing seriously ill Canadians to apply to use the drug. As Health Canada moves to overhaul the rules governing medical marijuana, its own numbers show sharp disparities in the accessibility and use of the drug across the country as patients scramble to find doctors willing to prescribe. (See also: Ten Years of Medical Marijuana in Canada)
The federal government's plan to revamp Canada's medical marijuana program and address court-raised constitutional concerns seems half-baked. The proposed changes ignore a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling and do little to properly address some of the most contentious issues. In particular, Ottawa intends to continue to permit only dried marijuana to be produced, sold and distributed to medical patients who will use a new document issued by doctors to buy pot from commercial producers. That decision flies in the face of Justice Robert Johnson's ruling in April that patients could make cannabis-infused oils, drink it in their tea or bake it into brownies and cookies, not just smoke it.
More than 15,000 people are licensed to grow medical marijuana in Canada, but Health Canada has no record of staff ever inspecting any of the growers. Health Canada implemented its medical marijuana access regulations in 2001. Under the program, people with "grave and debilitating illnesses" can be granted legal access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. People seeking a permit apply in writing to Health Canada, with a supporting document from a medical practitioner. (See also: Medical marijuana growth rules to change)
The Conservative government's new medicinal pot system may lead some patients to illicitly grow their pot outdoors. Under proposed changes taking effect next year, personal-use production licences will be eliminated, making it illegal for patients to cultivate their own marijuana. Only commercial producers will be licensed in the new system. The new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations estimates the current $1.80-a-gram cost for marijuana will rise to $8.80 a gram when the program takes effect. (See also: Medical marijuana users protest at Winnipeg MP's office)
Medical marijuana has not been proven to work for many illnesses that state laws have approved it for, according to the first comprehensive analysis of research on its potential benefits. The strongest evidence is for chronic pain and for muscle stiffness in multiple sclerosis, according to the review, which evaluated 79 studies involving more than 6,000 patients. Evidence was weak for many other conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, and Tourette’s syndrome and the authors recommend more research.