Here’s a little background from the Canadian Press:
OTTAWA - A group representing medical marijuana users says the Conservative government's proposed changes to the medicinal pot system will lead to more law breaking, not less.
In December, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced that medical marijuana licences would no longer be granted by the government and pot would be prescribed only by doctors.
However medical professionals say they're reluctant to prescribe marijuana because its use is not backed by clinical evidence.
Canada's 26,000 licenced medical pot users and their designates will also no longer be able to grow their own when the new laws take effect next year, but will have to rely on pricier government-sanctioned growers.
The Medicinal Cannabis Patients' Alliance of Canada says many doctors won't write pot prescriptions, but tell their patients to continue using marijuana if it relieves their symptoms.
Laurie MacEachern, the director of the alliance, says doctors are advising their patients to break the law, and says luck and cash should not be the prerequisite for getting health care in Canada.
The medicinal cannabis alliance argues marijuana should be removed from the Controlled Substances Act.
The government, which began a 75-day public comment period in mid-December, says it proposed the changes after a broad consultation process with stakeholders, including police and fire officials.
So as the Manitoba rep for NORML, what exactly do you do?
Our main focus and goal is to talk with politicians — mostly MPs, public service people — and to educate them about the costs of prohibition, mostly to do with the marijuana laws.
You’ve said you think changes are going to be made to the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations — MMAR — and that those will force a majority vote for legalization?
Yes. I think they’re just setting themselves up long-term for legalization, because I think they’re in a little bit over their heads.
In terms of…?
Well, the new changes that are coming will be stripping the personal possession licenses from cannabis patients who are growing their own medicine, as well as from any designated growers who would be growing for a sick patient. Those licenses are going to be pulled now. Essentially what they want to do is incorporate the medical cannabis industry and make money from it that way.
What they’re requesting is anybody with the funds can go and apply for commercial production licensing. However, the guidelines that Health Canada’s implemented (as outlined) in the Ottawa Gazette are just preposterous. It’s ludicrous — they’re asking for three-foot concrete wall barriers from the outside inside, with three-foot charcoal-lined exhaust systems. And then they want the person who’s producing the medical cannabis to get testing done for it, which costs thousands and thousands of dollars.
But we’re still just talking commercial growing for medical purposes, right?
Right. Because as long as the Conservative government is in power we really don’t have a fighting chance to legalize cannabis.
It’s already legalized for medical purposes, but it’s still difficult for people who need it to access it?
It is. Primarily, I think the most difficult problem is finding a willing physician to prescribe it. That’s the other thing that I do as far as activism goes, because I am the girlfriend of a physician who is cannabis-friendly and educated. We do help many patients across Canada — they seek us out and we help them. A lot of these patients, for the most part, can’t even afford to get the paperwork done. So we help them any way we can.
It’s still difficult. Unless you have a doctor who’s really compassionate and really open-minded, because there’s a lot of fear involved with all the propaganda from the old days — a lot of the traditional doctors are a little leery. They’re certainly uncertain of it anyway. And until a little more health research goes on where cannabis is concerned, we’re just living in a grey area.
The doctor I work with is awesome — he’s very compassionate. And we’ve helped a lot of people get off hard prescription drug medicines.
I started the Canadian Medical Marijuana Clinic a couple of years ago. People were inquiring about getting help finding a physician. So I spoke to him and he agreed that we’d start helping people. We’re not asking anybody for donations or money or anything like that — I’m strictly here for patients as an advocate to make sure that they’re treated right and that they get everything that they need to get to be legitimized.
But if the government changes the medicinal marijuana system and pulls all those licenses and nothing is in place right away, folks won’t have access to medical marijuana to alleviate their pain. And that’ll be a problem, right?
Well, that’s another thing. It almost seems as if there’s going to be about a year to a two-year grey period where people are going to be kind of like chaotic and be like, ‘Well, where the heck am I going to get my meds from?’
So if you really think about it, that is kind of laying a foundation for a little bit more local crime. In all instances — it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do, whether it’s medicinally or recreationally — there’s no way of doing everything a hundred per cent at this point. Until we get cannabis legalized, then and only then will people become a little bit more relaxed. And I think our economy will be better for it, too, because we won’t be putting innocent people in jail as much and we can focus on putting that money towards…
Yes. We’ve got to just stop the nonsense — putting people in jail for small little cannabis crimes and clean up the streets, which we really need to focus on.
Legalize it, tax the hell out of it, just like we do with booze, and don’t make petty criminals out of otherwise lawful citizens. Because really, use is so widespread. I guess the big transgression now is trafficking because it’s still an illegal substance. But the cops have to know that it goes on.
I think the cops are sick and tired of it, to be honest. When it comes down to it, I think they would rather solve a pot crime that leads to a cocaine crime than go after somebody who’s got a sick mother dying in bed.
How do plan to mobilize forces?
There’s a huge community. I’ll be talking to all the MPs in Manitoba as much as possible about the graveness of what’s going on with marijuana prohibition, and how it’s affecting us as a province in the middle of Canada. We have a lot of sick people here, and I don’t want to see any of these sick people going to jail.
Here in southwestern Manitoba, we have one of the highest rates of MS in the world. And MS patients apparently respond positively to marijuana.
The difference is day and night. More mobility, just an overall better lifestyle. It’s not going to prevent their illness or cure it, but it’s just coping. If you’re in pain or you don’t have an appetite, it’s good to maybe give it a shot. Because it does work.
You’re an advocate and you’re a recreational user, but you have some medical issues as well, don’t you?
Yes. Back in 2006, I broke my left femur, which was a very painful experience. And I had inserted inside me titanium pieces. So I have to deal with that hardware every day, and the air pressure actually does influence how my day’s going to go.
So the colder it is and the more humid it is, there are lots of aches and pains. So a little medication with marijuana and it just seems to make it dissipate.
You must really believe in it to be as much of an advocate as you are. But this is still, sadly, such a controversial topic. You might be a lightning rod for some negativity, and obviously that’s OK with you. So why the passion for it? Why are you willing to put a face and a name to a movement that is still somewhat controversial? I think that takes a very brave person to do…
I don’t know if I would consider myself brave. But my main focus is that I think it’s really, really important. This is going to affect my grandchildren, and I’m not going to be around forever, so I would at least like to make a footprint of what I think is the right kind of example for the people around me. I want to stand up for what I believe in, to do it with everything that I have, and to do it wholeheartedly.
Helping people is what I do, and I think that’s what keeps me doing this — is just that people are so grateful to have somebody fighting for them.