Jade Ridge, CEO of the Canadian Medical Marijuana Clinic, poses for a photo with federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during his public meet-and-greet event in Brandon last week.
A coalition of medical marijuana activists hopes to take the federal government to the Supreme Court over new regulations being phased in by Health Canada.
In this February photo, Jade Ridge, CEO and founder of the Canadian Medical Marijuana Clinic based in Brandon, smokes marijuana in the living room of her home. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
The MMAR (Marijuana Medical Access Regulations) Coalition Against Repeal is a group of patients/activists with representatives in every province across the country.
The coalition includes Brandon’s Jade Ridge, CEO of the Canadian Medical Marijuana Clinic.
"We talk about Section 7 in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how it explains how we have the rights and freedoms to access medicine in a dignified manner," said Ridge, who is also the Manitoba representative for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada.
"Well, when it comes down to it … what is considered to be a dignified manner? You would think that you’d be able to grow your own garden."
Today, the Conservative government is launching a $1.3-billion free market in medical marijuana. Health Canada will phase out an older system that mostly relied on small-scale, homegrown medical marijuana of varying quality, often diverted illegally to the black market.
In its place, large indoor marijuana farms certified by the RCMP and health inspectors will produce, package and distribute a range of standardized weed, all of it sold for whatever price the market will bear. The first sales are expected in the next few weeks, delivered directly by secure courier.
Ridge said the MMAR Coalition Against Repeal consists of a team of six lawyers, and the group is trying to raise money for donations to "challenge the federal government based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." According to the coalition’s website, (mmarcoalitionagainstrepeal.
com) they sought out the expert advice of constitutional lawyer John C. Conroy to "take on the legal battle that is assumed will take place."
Ridge said the new federal regulations may put patients in a vulnerable situation.
"They might just end up taking a bigger risk, moving their garden somewhere else and when they get caught they’re going to be susceptible to Bill C-10," she said. "I think that’s a really serious problem. We don’t want to fill (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper’s privatized prisons with sick people, do we?"
Ridge, who runs Manitoba’s only cannabis clinic, estimates the clinic has seen about 600 patients since it opened three years ago.
"I work alongside a doctor here in Brandon. I help the patients get ready for their applications, answering questions that they might have … and upon approval from a physician then we book them in for an appointment and book them in that way."
The clinic educates about, as well as prescribes, medical marijuana to those who need it, according to the clinic’s website. The clinic does not provide marijuana.
Ridge has been a medical marijuana user for the past three years to treat the pain she suffers due to chronic arthritis.
As of today, Health Canada will stop accepting new applications for personal-use marijuana production. Individuals requiring access to marijuana for medical purposes who do not already hold a valid production licence for a given site would either have to obtain dried marijuana from Health Canada (until March 31) or go directly to an approved licensed producer.
The next six months are a transition period, as Health Canada phases out the old system by March 31, while encouraging medical marijuana users to register under the replacement regime and to start buying from the new factory farms.
There are currently 37,400 medical marijuana users recognized by the department, but officials project that number will swell more than ten-fold, to as many as 450,000 people, by 2024.
Ridge said the new regulations may pose problems for the clinic in Brandon.
"How am I going to help them resource safe medicine? I don’t know where I’m going to be able to point them to other than Prairie Plant Systems because that seems to be the only commercial grow right now," she said.
Ridge said she believes cannabis is medicine, and the only way to eliminate the problems is by legalizing marijuana. She had a chance to speak with federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the subject while he was in Brandon last week. Trudeau has made it known he is in favour of legalizing cannabis.
"Not just to decriminalization, which is an idea that’s time is way overdue, but also of legalization … of taxing and regulating marijuana," Trudeau said during a Liberal leadership campaign stop in Brandon earlier this year.
Ridge added, "If there’s no law attached to it, and you take that out of the equation, then there is no room for gangs and crime where marijuana is concerned. We can put an age limit on it, we can put it you know in stores that sell cigarettes and alcohol."
This weekend, Ridge is heading to Saskatoon for the third annual Prairie Medicinal Harvest Cup, where people who are legally able to grow their own marijuana will converge.
"A bunch of … mostly Prairie growers, but there’s people coming from all ends of Canada," she said. "It’s kind of like a contest to see which medicine reigns supreme sort of thing. There’s speakers there, there’s advocates, there’s a lot of educational tools there … It’s a good place collectively to find out how (new regulations are) going to affect patients."
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from The Canadian Press
Medical marijuana info
Facts and figures on the medical marijuana regime in Canada, which is changing rules by March 31, 2014, to encourage large private-sector growers:
• Current number of medical marijuana users approved by Health Canada: 37,359, up from 477 in 2002.
• Number of patients with personal licences to grow marijuana for themselves: 25,600 (ends March 31)
• Number of growers licenced to produce marijuana for a maximum of two patients each: 4,200 (ends March 31)
• Current number of entrepreneur applications to grow medical marijuana under new rules allowing larger facilities: 156
• Health Canada's current price for medical marijuana produced under contract: $5 a gram (government sales end March 31)
• Health Canada’s projection of profitable private-sector price in 2014 after the new free-market kicks in: $7.60
• Projection of average price as market matures in several years: $8.80
• Advertised price of products of CanniMed, the first licensed distributor in the new system: $9 to $12 a gram
• Current estimated cost of black-market dried marijuana purchased on the street: $10 to $15 a gram
• Projected total additional cost to all approved patients as a result of the new system: $166 million a year for 10 years
• Health Canada projection of number of approved medical marijuana patients in 2014: up to 58,000
• Projection of number of patients by 2024: Up to 450,000
• Sales projections for the new industry by 2024: $1.3 billion a year.
» Sources: Health Canada; CanniMed
» The Canadian Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 1, 2013