While the courts have said that Canadians must have reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana for medical purposes, the Government of Canada believes this must be done in a controlled fashion in order to protect public safety.
On June 10, the Government of Canada announced the new Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). These regulations are intended to provide reasonable access for those Canadians who need marijuana for medical purposes while protecting public safety.
When the Marijuana Medical Access Program was introduced in 2001 in response to a court decision, the number of people authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes stood at less than 500. Over the years that number has grown to more than 30,000. As a result, costs to taxpayers have continued to climb as Health Canada heavily subsidizes the production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes.
As well, under the current program, Canadians can apply to grow marijuana for medical purposes in private homes or buy from Health Canada. The ability for individuals to produce marijuana in private homes has added to public health, safety and security risks as criminal elements have abused the system.
The government's goal is to treat dried marijuana as much as possible like other narcotics used for medical purposes under the MMPR by creating conditions for a new, commercial industry that will be responsible for its production and distribution. Health Canada will return to its traditional role as a regulator.
Licensed producers will provide access to quality-controlled marijuana for medical purposes, produced under secure and sanitary conditions, to those Canadians who need it, while strengthening the safety of Canadian communities. In line with other controlled substances, personal and designated production will be phased out. This will reduce the health and safety risks, such as fire and toxic mould hazards, to individuals and to the Canadian public, while allowing for a quality-controlled and more secure product for medical use.
Under the new regulations, licensed producers will have to meet extensive security and quality-control requirements including requesting security clearance for certain key positions, and meeting physical security requirements (such as a security system that detects intruders). Licensed producers will also be subject to compliance and enforcement measures, and dried marijuana will only be shipped through a secure delivery service directly to the address the client has specified.
Taken together, these measures will reduce the risks of diversion of marijuana to illicit markets.
Under the MMPR, the fundamental role of health providers does not change. The responsibility to assess a patient and decide on appropriate treatment continues to rest with health-care practitioners. The MMPR have created a streamlined process for those needing access to marijuana for medical purposes, eliminating the need for individuals to share health information with Health Canada.
To help support health-care practitioners in making decisions about whether marijuana is an appropriate treatment option, an Expert Advisory Committee was created to assist in providing health-care practitioners with comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information on the known uses of marijuana for medical purposes. More information is available on the Health Canada website.
The government understands the need to continue to provide reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana for medical purposes and the new regime does so in a manner that is consistent with the way access is provided for other narcotics used for medical purposes. This more appropriately balances the needs of patients with the health, safety and security of all Canadians.
Leona Aglukkaq is Canada's Minister of Health.