Ottawa’s incoming regulations on medical marijuana are a bit like the substance itself: beneficial but also prone to causing confusion. The Harper government is right to regulate the production of medical pot like the narcotic that it is, but handing the medical community the responsibility of prescribing it and setting a maximum dosage will be problematic for doctors and patients.
Canada’s Marihuana Medical Access Program was created in 2001 and will be altered drastically as of April 1, 2014. Under the current regime, Health Canada licenses individual users, who are then able to grow their own pot, buy it from licensed home growers, or buy it from the government itself at a subsidized price of $5 a gram.
As of April, Canadians will no longer be allowed to grow their own medical marijuana. All production will be handed to large, private growers licensed and regulated by Health Canada. The government, however, will stop licensing users. Instead, “health-care practitioners will be able to sign a medical document enabling patients to purchase the appropriate amount related to their conditions.” The delivery system will be “secure courier,” and patients will be allowed to order up to 150 grams a month.
The federal government’s decision to limit production to licensed facilities is sensible. The government is responsible for the narcotics it lets Canadians consume; it has every right to enforce quality controls and sanitary conditions. Furthermore, there is no reason for Ottawa to subsidize medical marijuana; the market should set the price.
But many doctors have legitimate fears about their ability to prescribe medical pot, which can vary in strength and for which there are no standardized dosages. Doctors say they will be leery of signing prescriptions; this could make it difficult for current users to keep getting their supply. As well, it seems odd to limit the monthly dosage. A medication should be prescribed according to a patient’s needs and a doctor’s judgment of those needs. To thrust the prescribing of medical marijuana onto doctors and then tie their hands makes little sense.
Ottawa needs to address both these issues before April 1, or it risks depriving some Canadians of a medication they now use daily to treat a wide variety of ailments.