Local municipal officials are welcoming proposed changes in federal legislation surrounding the production of medical marijuana.
Both the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities have raised concerns about illegal grow-ops being converted to medical grow operations, said Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman, who sits on the federal group’s board.
The proposed changes — Health Canada plans to take itself out of the production and distribution of the substance and open up the commercial market to companies that meet “strict security requirements” — appear to address that concern. Production of the substance would no longer be allowed in private homes.
“I think the municipalities will applaud it,” Coleman said, noting that there has been tension between the municipal and federal levels of government over the issue, and concerns that medical growing licences were being used to mask illegal operations.
“Because the information wasn’t shared, particularly with the police resources, they would go in and bust a place and then find out it was licensed,” Coleman said. “But they couldn’t tell what sort of volume it was licensed for. So the medical licensing was just some camouflage covering a much larger operation.”
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq echoed those concerns.
“Current medical marijuana regulations have left the system open to abuse,” she said in a statement on Dec. 16.
“We have heard real concerns from law enforcement, fire officials and municipalities about how people are hiding behind these rules to conduct illegal activity, and putting health and safety of Canadians at risk. These changes will make it far more difficult for people to game the system.”
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has also come out in support of the proposals, saying the new approach “clarifies the rights and responsibilities of the producer, protects community safety, and supports our police and emergency services.”
But Philippe Lucas, co-founder of Canadians for Safe Access, Canada’s oldest medical cannabis patients’ rights group, said the proposed changes could price some users out of the market.
“Patients who currently have the know-how and have spent money on equipment to be able to produce their own cannabis and source strains they find effective for their own conditions are no longer able to benefit them from personal production,” he said.
“That’s going to lead, potentially, to significant cost increases for patients.”
The changes, scheduled to take effect March 31, 2014, aim to treat marijuana like any other narcotic used for medical purposes — patients can purchase the appropriate amount from a licensed vendor as long as they have a signed medical document, similar to a prescription, from a health care practitioner.
Potential growers must demonstrate appropriate training; have an indoor restricted-access production site not in a private dwelling that is controlled at all times and includes 24/7 visual monitoring systems and an intrusion detection system; and have provided a written notification of their application to the local police force, local fire authority and local government.
In an attempt to “strike a balance between patient access and public safety,” Aglukkaq has announced doctors will be able to sign a document similar to a prescription for medical marijuana. The new process would replace the 33-page application form that doctors used to have to fill out.
Lucas said it was a welcome change. “This will kind of normalize the prescription of medical cannabis.”
— With files from Postmedia News
© Copyright 2013