01 Apr Oh Canada! Why Are You Taking So Long to Legalise Cannabis?
Kent Mao lives in Canada and is the Senior Editor of TruthOnPot.com. TruthOnPot.com is an online resource for medical cannabis news, facts and research. TruthOnPot.com is actively engaged in the online discussion of marijuana policy and debate. You can learn more by visiting www.truthonpot.com
Oh Canada… Those are the first words of our national anthem as well as the first thought that comes to mind when reflecting on a country that was once leading the fight against marijuana prohibition.
You see, while a number of states in the U.S. seem to be getting all the attention these days when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, most people don’t realize how hard the federal government of Canada has been working on revamping the regulations that dictate access to cannabis in our country.
And what might that be, you ask? Well, let me tell you. First off, early last year, the Conservative government of Canada – under leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – passed what was known as the “omnibus crime bill,” which imposed harsher penalties and mandatory jail time for drug offenders.
“Drug offenders” meaning anyone who grows more than six marijuana plants. Only six marijuana plants? Heck, that’s hardly enough to get you through college, not to mention the generous amounts required by most medical cannabis patients.
Yet, the passage of this crime bill came as a shock to many Canadians, I included, as harsher cannabis laws are exactly what Canadians say they don’t want. According to the results of last year’s public poll, 65% of adults in Canada say they support nationwide legalization or decriminalization of cannabis (1).
So why is it that the Tories feel the need to institute mandatory jail time for relatively harmless marijuana growers? It could just be a shot at the Liberal Party, who released a draft policy paper outlining their recommendation for marijuana legalization just a few months earlier (2). The paper highlighted the economic benefits of regulating and taxing the recreational market for cannabis, which is estimated to be around $4 billion dollars at present time. Nearly 80% of the party’s members voiced their support for the legalization of cannabis at their biennial convention last year.
While a majority Conservative government is set to remain in power for at least the next two years, it’s encouraging to note that they plan on taking a more relaxed approach to medical cannabis very soon… Very, very soon, in fact.
Just last December, Health Canada – Canada’s federal health division – announced (3) their proposal to dramatically alter the way Canadians have access to medical cannabis, which is set to come into effect within the next few months. The proposed changes come in the form of the new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which will replace the outdated Marihuana Medical Access Program (MMAP) that has severely restricted access to medical marijuana for Canadians over the past ten or so years.
Although the Tories’ new crime bill runs counter to the growing support for easier access to marijuana in Canada, the MMPR appears to be a beacon of hope for the significant number of Canadians who use cannabis as a medicine. Unfortunately, under the current MMAP, this number has yet to pass 30,000 (3) due to the unnecessary restraints that patients face in obtaining authorization to access medical cannabis. On the other hand, public surveys show (4) that over 400,000 Canadians use cannabis as a medical treatment, which is vastly supplied by the underground drug market. However, the new MMPR is about to change all of that.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the MMPR is the ease of access that potential patients will soon enjoy when attempting to gain access to Canada’s medical marijuana system. Under the old system, patients had to obtain lengthy health documents from a doctor, and in most cases a specialist, before they could even apply for federal authorization. On the other hand, the new MMPR requires patients to obtain only a single note that can be provided by any licensed practitioner. Not only is this an easier process for patients and doctors, but it also eliminates the need to obtain confirmation from Health Canada – a step that can sometimes take months to complete.
What’s more is that the new system will allow any licensed producer to grow and sell medical marijuana to patients who submit a prescription. Under the old MMAP, Health Canada was the only source of medical cannabis, which many patients found to be unsatisfactory. By creating a commercial market for medical cannabis, the federal government is forming a brand new industry that they project will generate over $1 billion in annual sales by 2024. A billion dollars? Cue the capitalists on this one.
With the promise of such a lucrative market for medical marijuana, a number of Canadians have already announced their intentions of becoming a licensed supplier as soon as the regulations are finalized. This includes Ross Rebagliati (5) – Canada’s own Gold medalist snowboarder – who was temporarily stripped of his Olympic medal after testing positive for THC back in 1998.
Even still, it seems as though us Canadian’s still have some time to wait until we can rush to our doctors for a cannabis prescription. Although the new MMPR is set to come into effect by “Spring 2013” (6), things have been all too quiet since Health Canada’s announcement in December.
Despite the hold-up, I remain hopeful that one day Canada will lead the way in medical cannabis research and policy reform, as countries around the world begin to realize the consequences of prohibiting this wonderfully medical plant. Until then, I guess I’ll have to put up with the side-effects of pharmaceuticals and hope that I live to see the day when Health Canada allows easier access to medical marijuana. Well, at least Spring 2013 isn’t too far away, according to my calendar, that is.