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Licensed medical-marijuana users allowed to keep producing plants

Advocates of medical marijuana are encouraged by a Federal Court decision to allow licenced individuals to keep producing homegrown pot.
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Advocates of medical marijuana are encouraged by a Federal Court decision to allow licenced individuals to keep producing homegrown pot.

Advocates of medical marijuana are encouraged by a Federal Court decision to allow licenced individuals to keep producing homegrown pot.

Judge Michael Manson issued an injunction Friday exempting patients who are licensed to possess or grow medical marijuana under current rules, either for themselves or someone else, from new regulations that would have made the practice illegal.

A trial on the constitutional argument is expected within nine months to a year.

A group of patients behind a constitutional challenge asked for an injunction to preserve the status quo until their legal case goes to trial.

The federal government announced plans to overhaul the production of medical pot last year, arguing the current system had grown out of control and was rife with problems ranging from unsafe grow-ops to infiltration by criminals.

The new regulations, which begin April 1, restrict medical marijuana production to commercial growers, though the court injunction does not affect the new licensing system.

There are 37,000 people in Canada allowed to possess and, in many cases, grow marijuana — up from 100 in 2001.

Some individual growers have developed strains of pot over the years that best meet their needs, said Dana Larsen of Sensible B.C., a group that supports decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana.

For Doug Brown of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, the injunction could be enough to get him to resume growing his own marijuana under licence.

Brown, 36, did just that until last summer to deal with the pain of sciatica and deterioration in some of his joints. But he pulled the plug after hearing about the federal rules against home licensees.

The court ruling is cause for optimism, Brown said, but he will wait to see how it turns out.

The injunction doesn’t have a big effect on the compassion society, he said, but will benefit many people. He said his organization provides medical marijuana to its members, but many others grow their own supply.

People’s needs are varied, Brown said.

“Obviously, there’s thousands and thousands of strains [of marijuana], so we can’t provide the exact one for every single person that comes through our door,” he said. “There’s no exact dosage for an exact ailment for everybody.”

Marijuana is especially good for dealing with pain, and improving appetite and sleep, he said.

Dieter MacPherson, executive director of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, said the federal court’s ruling balances public interest with patient rights.

“It’s true that this will be a burden on the new licenced producers, but I don’t think that a commercial enterprise should trump patients’ ability to produce their own medicine.”

He said “diversity of choice” for medical marijuana users is important, adding that not all users have the wherewithal to grow their product.

The cannabis buyers club has about 6,000 members overall, about 4,000 of them active. MacPherson said he knows a number of people who grow their own marijuana under licence, and that cost is an important factor.

“It’s right to say a lot of these patients have invested a lot of trial-and-error into producing strains that work for them.”

MacPherson said medical marijuana helps a wide range of conditions.

“Therapeutically, it’s been shown to be beneficial for MS, cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s in some cases. It’s got wonderful painkilling properties.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

— With files from Canadian Press