British Columbia urges ‘rethink’ of Canada’s medical cannabis program, citing diversion to illicit market

British Columbia is pressing Canada’s federal government to revamp the country’s home medical cannabis cultivation program, calling some instances of authorized home production a significant source for the illegal market.

“We know the program allows patients to produce their medicine at a lower cost than they can buy it, but we also know there is significant abuse, and that cannabis grown by medical growers is a significant source of illegal market cannabis,” the office of B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told Marijuana Business Daily in a statement.

“We would also like to see the federal government re-think the medical access program, in particular personal and designated production,” the ministry’s statement said.

Some legal businesses, too, have said alleged diversion has a negative impact on their bottom lines.

But other industry sources downplayed that claim, saying any diversion is exaggerated and there is no clear data to suggest otherwise.

Any impact from potential changes on the regulated and unregulated markets for medical cannabis is unclear as no specific amendments to the current rules have been proposed by Ottawa.

Canada’s medical program allows patients to receive cannabis directly from licensed producers.

Part of that program also allows patients to grow a specific number of marijuana plants for their own medical use, depending on how much they’re prescribed by a doctor and pending approval by Health Canada for each site, or to designate someone else to grow it for them.

Health Canada reported roughly 43,211 registrations for personal or designated medical production as of September 2020, the latest month of available data.

Roughly 8,590 of those are in British Columbia.

The ministry provided MJBizDaily with written responses to questions in lieu of a phone interview with the minister.

British Columbia concerns

The B.C. government was clear it does not want to see the broader medical cannabis regime eliminated altogether, acknowledging that many patients legitimately grow marijuana for their own use as a more affordable option than buying medicine from a licensed producer.

“However, we have serious concerns about the volume of cannabis some users are authorized to produce and the lack of oversight once an authorization is issued,” the B.C. public safety ministry said in written answers to follow-up questions.

The ministry said some medical users are authorized to use in excess of 100 grams of cannabis per day, which would allow them to grow more than 5oo plants indoors or 200 plants outdoors, based on the conversion formula set out in federal regulation.

And since regulations allow medical cannabis to be grown for up to four individuals at one site, “potentially thousands of plants can be grown in one location – in other words, (it is) a commercial scale operation,” the ministry said.

The province claimed that personal and designated medical marijuana production sites are sometimes established in residential neighborhoods “where they can have a massive impact on neighbors, and unlike commercial operations, there are few rules about how the cannabis is grown.”

That creates “significant challenges” for local authorities as well, the province noted.

“All of which is to say that while we appreciate the benefits of allowing medical users to produce their own cannabis, the way the medical program currently operates has significant and unacceptable impacts on the broader community.”

The ministry said it is encouraged that Health Canada “appears to be taking early steps” to address some of the issues it has with the program.

As examples, the ministry cited:

  • Initial steps taken by the federal health department to use its authority to refuse or revoke authorizations on public health and safety grounds.
  • An effort by the federal government to contact physician regulatory bodies across Canada “where it has concerns about doctors who are authorizing very high daily amounts.”

“We think the program requires comprehensive review and reform, and we are encouraging the federal government to undertake that work on a priority basis. The B.C. Cannabis Secretariat raises these concerns with Health Canada at regular meetings, and we are committed to supporting the federal government in any program review.

“Minister (Farnworth) has also raised these concerns with his federal counterparts.”

‘Rhetoric, not reality’

Kirk Tousaw, a former lawyer who fought a previous government ban on home cultivation of medical cannabis, said any diversion from the legal medical market to the illicit market is immaterial.

Tousaw was part of the legal team that successfully fought a legal battle in 2016 to overturn a federal ban on home cultivation of medical marijuana.

“The reality is diversion from personal and designated producers is not actually a big deal. It’s not impacting anything. But by trying to crack down on it, you’re going to harm a lot of patients, and that will be a big deal,” said Tousaw, now CEO of micro-cultivator Great Gardener Farms in Cowichan Valley, British Columbia.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the federal police service, did not tell MJBizDaily how many personal or designated medical marijuana production sites were the focus of police action in 2019 and 2020, making claims the system is being abused hard to verify.

British Columbia said it does not have such data, and Health Canada did not provide the data by MJBizDaily‘s deadline.

Provincial and police sources have cited only anecdotal evidence, such as large individual police raids.

Max Monahan-Ellison, board member of patient advocacy group Medical Cannabis Canada, said the missing data is key to understanding the extent of any diversion that might be happening.

Health Canada logged 23 instances of “registration revocations” for personal or designated production last year – a small number considering the 43,211 registrations.

“Show me the data so we can understand the extent to which this is a problem,” he said.

“Let’s make sure we don’t end up punishing a large group of patients for the actions of a few.”

Regarding instances of police enforcement against alleged abusers of medical production licenses, Tousaw said, “Is it less than 0.01% of all the licenses out there? Are there more than 43 of these cases in all of the country? It doesn’t seem like it.”

“If Health Canada wants to help patients and preserve public safety, there’s a lot of ways to do it that don’t involve restricting patients’ rights,” he said,

“The lens that we need to be looking at this through always has to put the patient as the primary stakeholder, not law enforcement and not the recreational market.”

Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected].

8 comments on “British Columbia urges ‘rethink’ of Canada’s medical cannabis program, citing diversion to illicit market
  1. Andrew Shirley on

    Thanks for taking time to write this article. It caught my attention for the reason that BC would do away with the growing option for medical users. I’m concerned that BC has no issue with trying to take away medication from thousands of legal medical cannabis patients in their pursuit of curtailing the illegal market. First of all, illegal cannabis isn’t dangerous like Heroin or Meth is. Second, actual medical patients would be the victims here. They fought hard to win protections from the Supreme Court of Canada but BC doesn’t want to recognize this and instead want to focus on the illegal market. This is a singular purpose with no care to who they are hurting. Governments are supposed work FOR the people, not against them as they are in this case. Thanks for your time.

  2. James Tripp on

    Since going on cannabis therapy, I have managed to eliminate virtually all of my symptoms of diverticulosis, osteoarthritis, psoriasis, nerve pain, and immobility, due to disc damage from C3 to C6, nerve pain and immobility due to damage of L5 vertebrae, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure, and have gone from 60% functionality at best, to better than 95% functionality.

    I have had to fight virtually every Institution and organization, as well general stigmatization, regarding cannabis use and I’m still having to fight that fight on a daily basis simply to maintain access to a safe and natural plant that has returned me to a complete state of health that I had previously not thought possible!
    I have come to realize that virtually most of what I have been taught about cannabis was, and often still is, based on decades of a pervasive negative bias against all cannabis use that has been perpetuated at a systemic level in virtually every Institution and organization in our society.

    Through self study, research, and application of cannabinoid therapy I have learned of the true nature of how phytocannabinoids interact with the human endocannabinoid system and come to realize that there is a great deal of misunderstanding, and blatant misinformation, in regards to human cannabis use. This contradiction stems from Decades of perpetuated negative assumptions about how cannabis affects the human body and individual human physiologies via interaction with the Human Endocannabinoid system.
    As a result of this proliferation of misinformation, (and the absurd prohibition of cannabis use that has existed for decades due to the designation of Cannabis as a schedule 1 drug in the US in the early 70s), people such as myself, who instinctively have gravitated towards cannabis as a medicinal treatment, have suffered stigmatization, persecution, detention by law enforcement, incarceration, and a systematic indoctrination into thinking of ourselves as ‘addicts and criminals’ all simply because we use a natural plant, (with historical reference of human use going back 5000 years), to benefit, improve, and heal, our health and well-being and virtually eliminate the need for many Pharmaceuticals.

    During all of this process I have had to deal with constant resistance, stigmatization, and the prolific ignorance on the health benefits of Cannabinoid Consumption from Government, Industry, medical associations, as well as the general public.

    enough is enough

    • Patti Wood on

      I agree James Tripp. I used cannabis at first was to ward off nausea I was experiencing for days while going threw chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment. I puked for days and no pharma was stopping it. One puff of cannabis immediately it removed my nausea. I soon found cannabis was good for pain. It helped with depression, anxiety, restless legs all while undergoing many operations for 5 years. I researched endo cannabinoids and CBD1 and CBD2 receptors in your brain. Tamoxifen was recommended for 5 years. I could not take its side effects so I decided to microdose cbd. I was getting cbd oil for $25 dollars a bottle till legalization ran over the cannabis medical patient only dispensaries and forced us to their taxed mail order system. I decided to learn to grow on my own. Growing is a learning curve. I am not able to pull of a plant what they claim you can because growing is not that easy. I also only grow part of the year. So many reasons why a person would have higher daily amounts.

      It is really impacting medical patients quality of care on cannabis when Government intervenes closing down medical only patients dispensaries because they do not fit into the tax dollar scheme they only seem to care about.

  3. Clayton McCann on

    I find it difficult to believe Mike Farnworth has a stable position on ACMPR, or anything cannabis, for that matter. In late 2019, for example, his opinion tended in the opposite direction:

    “Cannabis production has been a significant economic driver in many of B.C.’s rural communities and it is our goal to help cannabis producers, who are not connected to organized crime, transition to the legal market” (Community Futures News, 2019).

    Is the Ministry’s “opinion” its own, or that of Health Canada? Cannabis can’t be “a significant economic driver” (and therefore legitimate) and create ““significant challenges for local authorities” (and therefore illegitimate) at the same time.

    Health Canada’s opinion on the matter is even more spurious, suggesting healthcare practitioners that authorize more than the 2g/day are “criminal” and that “law enforcement” has visited several ACMPR sites, (but fails to provide evidence of this claim), which indicates, to Health Canada, that “criminal activity” was underway. The regulator fails to acknowledge, however, that when CannTrust broke the law and grew cannabis in unlicensed facilities, no police visited the site—does this mean no “criminal activity” occurred?

    Lastly, how does Farnworth’s ministry make the claim that a “lack of oversight once an authorization is issued,” exists, and no inspectorate regime exists whereby site visits are made, while ALSO claiming detailed knowledge as to what transpires at ACMPR sites:

    “potentially thousands of plants can be grown in one location – in other words, (it is) a commercial scale operation,” the ministry said.

    A complete pack of lies from Farnworth and Health Canada.

  4. Shelley Boyes on

    Yes, definitely need data to substantiate this is any major problem. But I suggest the easiest way to solve the cost issue is to cover cannabis for medical purposes under provincial health plans.

    • Clayton McCann on

      What do you infer by “cost?” Are you aware there are over 8,500 ACMPR licensees in BC alone? Many of these people engage with the legal economy through their “outlaw” agriculture. Typically, an operation of the average ACMPR size will employ 1 to 2 additional workers. Now we’re talking about 17,000 to 25,000 jobs. What is the “cost” of eliminating these occupations?

  5. KZBFF ELF on

    Yes, it should be controlled like alcohol products, to really drive the cost down and the quality up, see, no one wants to make their own alcohol now, only those who really serious about the craft they started their own businesses and take care of all the details including conformance to safety/health protocols. This is the way to go.

  6. DFDouglas on

    No patient is allowed to sell their medication for profit, many of the lawyers who represented us patients (Mernagh/ Allard) have stated that over and over again yet the abuse continues, thousands of so called patients are arrested and charged with trafficking every year, many have this false belief they are legally allowed to sell it, which they are not and are shocked when they end up arrested. There is literally hundreds of millions of dollars being funnelled through the gray market to patients holding licences yet Mr Tousaw says that it’s an”incoincidental” amount.

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