Canadian medical marijuana patients have a right to grow at home, according to a recent federal court ruling. But many still can't, and those that do could still face arrest, according to Debbie Stultz-Giffin -a medical marijuana patient since 2000, who is also the Chair of Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana (MUMM).
Not everyone was covered by the injunction
Federal Court Justice Michael Phelan's decision in the home-growing case doesn't make home cultivation legal. The ruling means that home growing should become legal once the government revises the rules for medical marijuana.
Until then, many - but not all - patients can continue personal cultivation under a court injunction that was imposed while the Allard case was being settled. To qualify for the injunction, a patient had to have a production license that was valid as of Sept. 30, 2013, and that license had to be connected to a possession license that was valid as of Mar. 21, 2014.
Confused? Now you know how patients and law enforcers feel. But the situation gets even murkier.
No one knows exactly how many people fall outside the injunction, but at least 12,000 patients can't legally grow their own medicine. They can only access it using a mail-order system run by Health Canada's licensed producers. Those were the terms outlined in the government's Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which came into effect in March 2014.
The problem is that, for many, the LP's prices are beyond their means. Debbie Stultz-Giffin told Civilized:
"When Health Canada presented MMPR as a draft, in the regulatory analysis, they acknowledged that there were at least 60 percent of the patients enrolled in the old program in 2013 who couldn't afford the program. Not only did they ram it through, they acknowledged it wouldn't work."
She added that, for patients of fixed incomes, "the remaining option would be to choose between their liberty and their health. Some patients will feel because of the nature of their condition, and their intolerance of pharmaceuticals and their economic situation, they're going to be forced to break the law."
She also explained that simply going back to using prescription drugs isn't an option for many because those medications produce side effects that ruin their quality of life:
"For many of us, pharmaceuticals were legal toxins in our system that reduced our quality of life and robbed us of health. People are put in those positions because cannabis has been the only medicine that has given them symptom control and quality of life."
Arrest is a threat to patients as well as taxpayers and the government
Would law enforcers really arrest a patient who wasn't covered by the injunction that allows home growing? Yes, according to Stultz-Giffin: "I'm fairly confident that they would be arrested and have their medicine confiscated. But once they were brought in, the case would be dismissed - because of the Allard decision, and the lack of interest in prosecuting that case."
But damage is still done - to the patients' whose lives are disrupted, to taxpayers who are still on the hook for the cost of police action, and for the government that allows these sorts of arrests to happen while revising medical marijuana regulations:
"It's not going to look good for the government to hand out six-month mandatory minimums to sick people for growing six plants," Stultz-Giffin said. "There are mandatory minimum laws in effect, thanks to the Harper government...If you're found guilty of growing six plants, it means automatically six-month incarceration."
And the Trudeau government says those laws won't change until the government is ready to legalize marijuana. And no one knows exactly when that will happen. So there is legitimate reason for all patients to feel anxiety and frustration - even those covered by the injunction because the police can't always tell which patients are allowed to grow and which aren't.
That's because Health Canada never issued permits in recognition of the injunction: instead, patients have to present their expired licenses and hope law enforcers will understand the legal intricacies of the injunction.
You can imagine how well that works: "Someone like you can't look at our permits and tell who's legal and who isn't," Stultz-Giffin explained. "So law enforcers don't have a clue either."
And so one of the the only things that's clear from the Allard decision is that patients across the country are still in a precarious situation:
"People will continue to be arrested," Stultz-Giffin warned. "We have no assurances from our government that patients can be protected for the next six months while they make sure that our constitutional rights are intact [while revising the new regulations for medical marijuana]."
To improve the situation, Giffin-Stultz hopes that the government will consult with patients, doctors and advocates while drafting the new medical marijuana regulations:
"They're more than aware that there are several not-for-profits to advocate for patients who would be delighted to sit down with them and help them craft a program that would suit the patients," said Stultz-Giffin. "It would save them the time to go back to court and make sure they have it right."
Otherwise, it's likely that they'll end up resolving the matter once again through the courts, which is costly in terms of time, taxpayer money and the health of patients.
h/t Toronto Star