Abuses Prompt Ottawa to Overhaul Medical Marijuana Program

12 arrested for exploitation of program

By Omid Ghoreishi
Epoch Times Staff
Created: March 13, 2013 Last Updated: March 13, 2013
Related articles: Canada » National
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An technician weighs cannabis in the Tikkun Olam greenhouse near the northern Israeli city of Safed, on Nov. 1, 2012, where the company grows medical cannabis. The Canadian government is proposing changes to its medical marijuana access program to avoid exploitation of the program. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

An technician weighs cannabis in the Tikkun Olam greenhouse near the northern Israeli city of Safed, on Nov. 1, 2012, where the company grows medical cannabis. The Canadian government is proposing changes to its medical marijuana access program to avoid exploitation of the program. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

The arrest of 12 people who fraudulently obtained licences to grow medical marijuana has highlighted loopholes in the Marijuana Medical Access Program that the government is attempting to address—to the concern of many authorized users of the program.

Police arrested the 12 individuals in Hamilton last week, among whom are several members of a family and their lawyer. They are charged with operating an illegal marijuana operation under the guise of the medical marijuana access program. 

The arrests were made after a lengthy investigation by the Hamilton Niagara RCMP and the Hamilton Police Service into the lucrative marijuana grow operation, which they describe as an “egregious exploitation” of Health Canada’s medical marijuana access regulations. 

According to police, the accused family members and their associates fraudulently obtained a substantial number of licenses for medical marijuana production with distribution networks extending to as far east as Newfoundland. The accused will appear in court in April.

These changes will strengthen the safety of Canadian communities, while making sure patients can access what they need to treat serious illnesses.

— Health Canada

The government announced in December that it is proposing changes to the program to stop such exploitation.

“The Government of Canada is concerned that the current Marijuana Medical Access Program is open to abuse,” Sara Lauer, a spokesperson with Health Canada, said via email. 

“These changes will strengthen the safety of Canadian communities, while making sure patients can access what they need to treat serious illnesses.”

Rapid Growth in use of Program

The growth in the number of individuals using the program in the past decade has been exponential, with more than 26,000 people currently authorized compared to fewer than 500 in 2002. 

“The rapid increase has had unintended consequences for public health, safety, and security as a result of allowing individuals to produce marijuana in their homes,” Health Canada said.

Currently, some patients grow their own medical marijuana in their homes while others have it couriered to them by a government distributor.

Under the proposed changes, the government would discontinue producing and distributing medical marijuana, and instead authorize private companies to play that role. 

Patients would need to have a medical document similar to a prescription signed by a health care practitioner to purchase the needed amount, and would no longer be able to produce marijuana in their homes.

Those of us that are producing our own won’t be able to afford the new framework.

— Laurie MacEachern, Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Alliance of Canada

“These changes will make it far more difficult for people to game the system,” Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement.

The proposal, which just underwent a public comment period, has been endorsed by both law enforcement agencies and fire chiefs.

“An average of 1 in 22 grow operations (legal and illegal) catch fire, which is 24 times higher than the average home,” Stephen Gamble, president of the Canadians Association of Fire Chiefs, said in a statement.

“We applaud the Government of Canada for strengthening Health Canada’s regulations for marijuana for medical purposes to enhance the safety of Canada’s firefighters and the communities they protect.”

Chief Constable Jim Chu of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also welcomed the proposal, saying it would reduce “the risk of abuse and exploitation by criminal elements.”

Patients, Doctors Concerned

However, many users of the program have expressed concern about the proposed changes. 

Laurie MacEachern, director of the Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Alliance of Canada, says the new system will not be affordable for medical marijuana users. 

“It’s going to be an entirely commercial corporate production, and those of us that are producing our own won’t be able to afford the new framework.”

MacEachern says she can produce her own cannabis supply for an entire year for under $200, but under the new system she would have to pay thousands of dollars to get the same amount. 

She also says the fact that doctors would now have to issue a prescription-like document in order for patients to use medical marijuana would make it harder to get access to the product, as doctors might be reluctant to prescribe its use. 

Under the current system, the doctor provides a declaration that says the patient has exhausted every other method and is allowed to try marijuana legally, but the declaration doesn’t necessarily imply that the doctor believes in marijuana or knows it to be effective. 

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is also raising concerns, saying physicians and other health professionals have little to no evidence-based knowledge about the use of marijuana as medical therapy. 

CMA president Dr. Anna Reid has said the proposals are “equivalent to asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded.”

“The CMA believes that if Health Canada wants its Medical Marijuana Access Program to [help Canadians maintain and improve their health], it should not withdraw from administering the program, leaving it to health professionals working within a large knowledge gap,” the organization said in a published comment on the proposed changes. 

Lauer says the proposed changes won’t place an increased burden on physicians. 

“Health care practitioners have always decided whether or not to support the use of marijuana for medical purposes for their patients. Under the current program, Health Canada’s role has never been to question the medical advice that an individual receives from a physician,” she says. 

“Under the proposed regulations, the responsibility to assess a patient and decide on an appropriate treatment would continue to rest with health care practitioners.”

Lauer also says it is unknown at this time what the cost of commercially produced marijuana would be as the price would be set by licensed producers. 

“The government understands the need to continue to provide reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes. The proposed new system will do so in a way that is consistent with the way access is provided to other narcotics used for medical purposes.”

The government aims to implement the new regulations by March 31, 2014.

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  • Jack Draak

    There is NO RECORD of a legal cannabis “grow-op” causing a fire or other health problems in Canada.

    There is NO EVIDENCE that diversion to the black market would be reduced with this change; in fact, with a dwindling supply on the black market (the intended effect of the change) the increased profit will only serve to enhance criminal activity and encourage diversion by patients too poor to pay 4x as much for their medicine next year. (Diversion is a major issue with prescription drugs which are clearly not “grown in somebody’s basement”; diversion is a strawman.)

    Health Canada has failed to address the fact that doctors, by-and-large, are boycotting the program. A simple glance at the statistics for number of “Authorization to Possess” reveals an exponential curve over time; this isn’t the result of Canadians becoming sicker by magnitudes, I assure you, it is because Canada still has only allowed about 20%* of eligible citizens into the program… the curve will continue to become steeper because we still have a lot of sick Canadians missing out on the benefits of cannabis. (20% is actually a very conservative estimate… while there are currently 25k AtPs statistics show there should be as many as one half of a million.)

    Instead of punishing sick Canadians with pointless changes (your stated objectives are both false and un-attainable through your proposed measures) it would be nice to see “Health” Canada take a role in educating health care professionals about the unprecedented safety and efficacy of cannabis as a therapeutic agent.

  • Kevin Fisher

    Read a Treating Yourself Magazine,Get educated.No Excuses, Ignorant Doctors and Fraudulant Corrupt Gov’t.!

  • Paul Blair

    A doctor who prescribed anything as medicine that had not been certified as harmless …as medicine… is leaving himself open to a world of hurt, in our litigious society.
    It’s real hard to hold the doctors responsible, for the limits and obligations that the law imposes on them.

  • Wayne Phillips

    Had Health Canada established adequate avenues of communication and ensured protocol between regional public sectors stakeholders and the applicant(s) existed – as part of the process – the opportunity for fraud would likely never have occurred regardless of any increase of applicant numbers.

    It was the Government’s responsibility to provide reasonable access in a manner that did not compromise public safety, good governance and order; Government failed to do that. In failing to provide due diligence not only were communities right across Canada placed in potentially precarious situations, those Authorized To Possess cannabis for medical purposes were also placed in unnecessary peril to the point of detriment and even death.

    Now Health Canada – at the Governments bequest – wants to wipe its’ hands clean of that mismanagement while insuring a system is in place that profits off of those least able to afford it; we who are Authorized To Possess cannabis for medical purposes are left with limited or no access whatsoever with MMPR and Government gets let off the hook.

  • troy

    They haven’t even addressed how those of us who have been licenced to produce our own for years have invested thousands of dollars to create clean, safe , optimal growing eviroments ,which allow us to produce our meds for less then 1$ per gram if you do it right. This doesn’t even take into account how many licenced patients who have also spent years cross breeding strains to produce the best meds for themselves because as we all know cannabis has presently over 1000 strains listed by seed banks across the world and that doesn’t take into account the strains ,growers like myself have created , For instance if you google 2010 420 magazine plant of the year and take a look at the winners one is mine. How does health Canada expect commercial growers to put the love and care into growing medical cannabis needed to produce the best med’s. Then there is the fact that for many licenced growers many are people with disabilities from illness/injury which limits there income as well as there physical capabilities and as a licenced mmar grower I know that the work I do daily in my grow room has its own therapeutic properties such as short periods of light work to loosen stiff joints, muscle spasms etc and in general make me more active.


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