PhD graduate in Sociology and the Collaborative Program in Addiction Studies at the University of Toronto
Dr. Jenna Valleriani is a recent PhD graduate in Sociology and the Collaborative Program in Addiction Studies at the University of Toronto. Her research over the last five years looks at drug policy, particularly focused on illegal and legal cannabis markets in Canada. Jenna is a Strategic Advisor for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), the advisory committee for the National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education (NICHE), and a member of NORML Canada.
Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws recently made headlines by announcing they will cover medical cannabis for their employees. But the devil is always in the details. While these two chains should be praised for their progressive steps forward, we also need to ask who this coverage is provided for, how much is being covered, as well as how this fits with the overall long-term strategy to position pharmacies as the front-line dispensers of medical cannabis.
We often create policies that are meant to protect youth, particularly around drug use. But what we actually end up doing is criminalizing and victimizing them further. With regulation we'll actually be able to start to undo some of the harms caused by prohibition - harms a lot worse than the use of cannabis itself.
While to some extent, I believe homeowners should have some say in what happens in their rental properties, this needs to be balanced with the rights of individuals to grow their cannabis for medical purposes and have access to affordable medicine.
Since the Task Force announced their recommendations for the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada last week, the focus has predominantly been on age restrictions, suggested in the report at 18 years old with provincial autonomy to mirror drinking ages. While the media frames this as "Trudeau OK with Canadians as young as 18 accessing cannabis", I find myself questioning why we continue to speak about young adults who are 18 and 19 as if they are children.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently expressed frustration around the current cannabis landscape, explaining, "Until we have brought in the proposed system... the current prohibition stands," and encouraging police to enforce the law, particularly as it pertains to the continued expansion of medical cannabis dispensaries in major cities across Canada. The response has been one of uniform frustration from many angles, but I don't believe Justin Trudeau actually lied about the Liberal party's intentions on the cannabis file.
Wynne has called the new regulations "common sense," and Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla has stated this "strikes a balance" between the rights of medical cannabis users and other Ontarians, but I fail to see a fair and just consideration of medical cannabis users' rights in the equation.
My only hope is that the eventual regulating bodies take a broader look at public health outcomes, and we fight against a purely commercial cannabis market. We should acknowledge Canada's distinct history when it comes to reform, cannabis policy and medical cannabis.
To deny the history of medical cannabis access does a disservice to our understanding of access in Canada and what it's actually like for patients trying to navigate this system. We've seen the framing of cannabis in the media change rapidly -- I don't doubt much of this is owed to the professionalization of the new federal industry, alongside more research, more interest and, of course, more money.
In all of our discussions on what 'gaps' need to be addressed under the MMPR, the lack of onsite distribution comes up again and again, and is one of the major reasons for the continued proliferation of dispensaries across Canada. It's certainly a more patient-focused option, where usually patients who access dispensaries are often given the option of coming in or having it mailed.
One of the most popular topics on the 2015 elections agenda is legalization and cannabis is by far the most widely used illegal drug in the Canada. People often compare a potential legalization model to alcohol. The way alcohol is regulated in Canada provides some really important public health benefits.
The celebrants on April 20 don't necessarily know the history of how cannabis came to be illegal, but they do know cannabis is less harmful to users than all other illicit drugs and considerably less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. They know that the greatest threat from cannabis lies in its continued illegality by policy makers who wish the evidence would just go away.
The transition from Health Canada's old medical cannabis regulations, to the new regulations removed the right of patients or caregivers to produce their own medicine. This was an important decision which, in the meantime, will prevent the violation of patients' constitutional rights to life, liberty and security. Recently, this injunction was appealed, but yesterday the unanimous decision to uphold the injunction was released, and soon after, lawyer Kirk Tousaw tweeted, "both systems can and should exist."
Current media reports have highlighted that doctors can legally demand a fee to fill out this form because it is not an insured service. But really, the difference between the medical document and a prescription is clearly one of semantics. By paying hundreds of dollars to have doctors fill out medical documents, we are inadvertently reinforcing the stigma surrounding cannabis for medical purposes -- the idea that there is something "illegitimate" about cannabis' therapeutic potential and the patients who use it.
With all the rapid change around medical cannabis and talk about legalization efforts, it's important to note that these changes are not without challenge: women's disproportionate responsibility for dependent children intensifies the risk associated with smoking cannabis and being known as a cannabis user.
Health Canada has recently announced a proposed amendment that will require licensed producers (LPs) under the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) to submit information about the doctors who are prescribing cannabis to provincial medical licensing authorities. In my opinion, this is another backhanded attempt to further de-legitimize the traction cannabis has been gaining in Canada and to appease the powerful institutions that surround federally authorized access.
The past has shown us in many ways that for real change, we have to find ways to work with the system, because it's a powerful one. We also need to think about how the values of a movement can remain intact even as entrepreneurs are, in some cases, displacing activists and the grassroots activism that provided access to many individuals across the country.
Patients with expired ATPs before March 21st need to get a letter, prescription or simply a form from their doctor that authorizes them -- essentially replicating what was found in the MMAR document with respect to authorized possession, grams per day, and signed by the doctor to be in compliance with regulations 53.
Some major drawbacks with this new program (although there are many) include the reliance on mail/courier delivery as opposed to storefront sales, issues with affordability, the exclusion of sold extracts (such as hashish, oils, tinctures and edibles), and the loss of personal production rights more generally.