OTTAWA — The federal cabinet has responded to an adverse court ruling by increasing the number of medical marijuana users a licensed grower may supply – to two from one.
The slight increase, to be announced this week, has prompted fierce criticism from MPs and advocates for the freer use of marijuana to alleviate symptoms for a range of illnesses.
Cabinet recently approved the change in response to a Federal Court ruling last year that struck down the previous limit of one licensed patient per producer as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“From one to two patients, that’s just insane,” said Eric Nash, a licensed Vancouver Island marijuana supplier under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations.
Nash said he and his partner, who cultivate organic marijuana through a company called Island Harvest, have been limited to one patient each, despite several hundred requests for help from approved marijuana users under the regulations.
A Federal Court of Appeal judge ruled in January 2008, that the limit of one patient per producer violated the right to life, liberty and security of the person guaranteed by the Charter of Rights.
Justice Barry Strayer cited the government’s own statistics showing that the stringent limit on patients per producer was forcing thousands of marijuana users to buy it illegally, a further violation of constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court of Canada last month dismissed the government’s application for leave to appeal Strayer’s ruling.
The new regulation will not be published until later this month, but a Health Canada spokesman confirmed the new limit is two patients per licence producer.
“As a result of (the Federal Court ruling), the government has moved quickly to address this regulatory void and has modified the (regulations) to allow one designated person to now produce marijuana for up to two authorized persons,” spokesman Philippe Laroche said in an email.
“This modification is currently in force.”
New Democrat MP Libby Davies called the government response “abysmal,” arguing it will likely also be struck down by the courts eventually.
She said Health Canada is aware thousands of medical marijuana users are obtaining the drug through “compassion clubs” that have proliferated over the years.
But she and Nash said those organizations must obtain their marijuana, which is not regulated for quality or safety, from the black market.
“From the beginning, the federal government has been dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the use of marijuana for medical reasons,” said Davies.
Liberal MP Keith Martin, who has tabled a private bill proposing the de-criminalization of marijuana, said the new limit demonstrates the Conservative government is unwilling to separate concerns over illegal drug use and medical marijuana.
“They lump them all in together,” said Martin.
By Tim Naumetz