As of April 1, 2014, the way that Canadians can access marihuana for medical purposes has changed…or at least, it was supposed to. Under the transitional provisions included in the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), every Authorizations to Possess (ATP), Personal-Use Production Licence (PUPL) and Designated-Person Production Licence (DPPL) issued under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations(MMAR) expired on March 31, 2014, even if the licence showed a later expiry date.
Under the transitional provisions, individuals had the obligation to destroy or dispose of all marihuana (plants, seeds, dried) obtained under the MMAR on or before March 31, 2014. On the same date, personal production and production by designated persons became illegal. Holders of ATPs or production licences had to notify Health Canada that they were no longer in possession of marijuana obtained under the MMAR and, if applicable, include a statement that they discontinued the production of marihuana as well as the amount of marihuana and number of plants destroyed. Failure to comply with the notice requirements exposed individuals to compliance and enforcement measures.
Under the new MMPR, individuals have to purchase their marihuana for medical purposes from authorized licensed producers. However, individuals are no longer required to obtain any approval or authorization from Health Canada and are able to purchase marihuana from the licensed producer of their choice once they have received a medical document from an authorized health care practitioner that contains the prescribed information. The MMPR also aims at eliminating the problems related to the growing of marihuana in residential dwellings as well as increasing interest and funding for research. However, advocates against the MMPR argued that the new regulations will have the effect of increasing prices from $1 to $5 per gram for individuals that produced their own marihuana to $6 to $11 per gram for commercially produced marihuana. For individuals requiring the daily maximum dose of 5 grams, this could represent an additional expense of up to $1500 a month and since marihuana is not currently considered a drug, it is not covered by most drug insurance plans. The advocates were also concerned that production levels would be insufficient to meet demands.
That is why on March 21, 2014, Federal Court Judge Michael Manson granted an application to medical marihuana patients seeking a temporary injunction to retain the right to produce marihuana for personal use until the court renders a judgement on the constitutionality of the MMPR. Justice Manson ruled that patients licensed to grow their own marihuana would be permitted to produce the drug even after April 1, 2014 when the “personal use” exemptions as per the transitional provisions in the MMPR would expire.
Following the decision, Health Canada issued a press release stating that as a result of ongoing litigation and uncertainty arising from court decisions, Health Canada would treat ATPs, PUPLs and DPPLs as extending beyond March 31, 2014. However, as per the Federal Court interim injunction, the following criteria must be met:
- individuals must have held a valid ATP under the MMAR on March 21, 2014; or
- individuals must have held a valid PUPL or DPPL under the MMAR on, or after, September 30, 2013, where there is also an associated valid ATP as of March 21, 2014.
Justice Manson granted the injunction after concluding that some patients would not be able to afford marihuana if prices increase and that it would violate their right to access important medicine.
There is currently twelve Authorized Licensed Producers under the MMPR, with more to be added as Health Canada reviews the more than 400 applications it has received (the current list of licensed producers is available here). It is hoped that this increased competition in the market will put pressure on producers to reduce the price of commercially produced marihuana, making it more affordable and accessible for patients. Some producers have also expressed the intention to subsidize the cost of the marihuana for eligible clients. The plaintiffs had also argued that the MMPR would limit their control over which strains of the drug they could use. However, Tweed, the first licensed producer to be publicly traded on the TSX Venture stock market, has been offering up to 80 different strains of marijuana to its clientele since the beginning of its operations. This is in comparison to the single available strain from Health Canada’s previous exclusive producer.
The government did announce on March 31, 2014 that it will ask the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn the injunction. However, there is no indication as to the timeline for the appeal or when the Federal Court will hear the case on the constitutionality of the MMPR.
For more information regarding the MMPR, please consult Health Canada’s Marihuana for Medical Use webpage.