Canadian medical marijuana patients will be allowed to grow "limited amounts" of cannabis according to the Health Canada's new program, called the Accessing Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (AMMPR). On August 11, the Canadian government held a teleconference to introduce the new regulations, which were drafted in response to a court decision ordering the Canadian government to revise its medical marijuana laws to allow patients the right to grow their medicine at home.

Patients initially had the right to grow cannabis at home under the country's original rules - the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR), which came into effect in 2001. But that provision was removed by the Conservative government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013 over concerns that home cultivation was unsafe.

The government claimed that home growing could cause fires, contaminate cannabis with mould or entice burglars to rob patients. The decision sparked a legal battle between the government and patients that went on until February 2016, when Federal Justice Michael Phelan ruled in favor of the home growers.

Patients can grow limited amounts at home

Under the AMMPR, patients can grow limited amounts of cannabis or designate someone to grow cannabis for them. The amount they can grow corresponds with the amount of cannabis recommended by the doctor, and whether they plan to grow cannabis inside or outside. 

"The limited amount is tied the daily amount that is authorized by an individual's healthcare practitioner," said Assistant Deputy Health Minister Jacqueline Bogden. "For example, if you plan to grow outdoors - let's say the doctor had prescribed one gram a day. So that would be two plants if you were growing outdoors and...it would be five plants indoors."

The discrepancy is in place to compensate for with how much plants produce in the wild versus at home. "The formula that we have in place assumes that it is expected that plants grown outdoors will provide you with a greater yield," said Andrea Budgell - Director of Policy for the Office of Medical Cannabis.

Growers need to register, get a criminal record check

To begin growing, patients will have to apply for a license so that the government can track how many legal growers are in the country. That information will be shared with law enforcers through a 24-hour hotline that police can use to verify if an individual can legally grow and possess marijuana. Designated growers will also have to prove that they have clean criminal records.

"They will have to go to local police and get a background check, which would confirm for us that the individual has not been convicted of a drug-related offence in the previous ten years," Bogden said. "That would make them ineligible."

Also ineligible to participate in the program are the storefronts selling marijuana in dispensaries across the country. The Canadian government has decided against bringing them into the legal framework, so any store selling cannabis is violating federal law.

"Canadians are reminded that access to cannabis for medical purposes is only permitted under the terms and conditions set out in these regulations," Bogden noted. "Storefronts selling marijuana - commonly known as dispensaries or 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 maybe unsafe."

That means patients who want to grow at home will have to purchase seeds through Health Canada's 34 licensed producers (LPs).

However, storefronts could be brought into the regulatory fold at a later date as these regulations are a stopgap ahead of new rules that will be introduced when the government legalizes recreational marijuana. 

"These regulations are designed to provide an immediate solution required to address the court judgment," Bogden said. "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."

Neither Bogden nor Budgell mentioned what the permanent regulations would look like. But they did say the government would consider various models for distribution, including pharmacies, which have been calling for a stake in the market.