06/19/2014 12:58 EDT | Updated 08/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Marijuana Prescribing Doctors Shouldn't Be Scrutinized

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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 doctors who are prescribing cannabis to provincial medical licensing authorities on a semi-annual basis. It costs the industry an estimated $400,000 to prepare and send the records annually. This also includes information about dosage and period of use. Each province has their own regulatory body, such as The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which has the power to issue certificates of registration to doctors, allowing them to practice medicine, as well as conduct discipline hearings when doctors have committed an act deemed as "professional misconduct".

Although The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is not a governing body, it does advocate on behalf of its members, as well as provide 'leadership and guidance' to physicians. The CMA has been upfront about their lack of support for cannabis as a medicine, cautioning doctors about prescribing until proper clinical trials have been conducted. Health Canada have themselves often referred to cannabis as a drug without proper scientific evidence or trials, yet has done little to assist this research over the last decade. If it was difficult for patients to find a signing doctor under the old regulations, you can bet this new amendment, if implemented, will effectively discourage a large number of doctors from prescribing cannabis.

I suspect this is most likely an attempt by Health Canada to get itself out of hot water with the CMA. As the largest professional organization of doctors in Canada, it has been upfront about its disapproval concerning their new role as the sole gatekeepers to medical cannabis access in Canada under the MMPR. Rather than patient applications for federal authorization being processed through Health Canada, the patient now brings their one page medical document directly to a licensed producer -- an aspect of the MMPR praised for easing up an onerous application process. Although the CMA has been rather relentless in their rigid (and frankly outdated) view of cannabis as a medicine, it also points to the fact that it's not just the patients who are unhappy with the new regulations. The proposed amendment is most certainly one step backwards for the MMPR, furthering the difficulty of access and the stigmatization of not only cannabis as a medicine, but the patients themselves.

The emerging industry is doing a lot to move medical cannabis towards normalization and professionalization, while simultaneously working to push forward education, research and development. These proposed amendments will place the few signing doctors under close scrutiny, and, I suspect, discourage others all together. Many industry stakeholders' recent comments have highlighted the notion that doctors should have nothing to hide, supporting this more rigorous regime. Nevertheless, we would be delusional to believe that these doctors will not face additional scrutiny, and possibility disciplinary action if it crosses the arbitrary threshold of what the provincial bodies may consider "too much" in both numbers of prescriptions or individual dosages. Even if regulatory bodies do nothing to follow up with doctors on prescriptions, the mere fact this proposed amendment exists is enough for many doctors to close their doors on the idea entirely.

In my opinion, this isn't about the "integrity" of the program, but rather 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. Although Health Canada projects growth from 40,000 to 400,000 legally authorized patients, now seems like a right time to ask if the MMPR actually does anything for the "illusion of access" cited as a major problem under the old regime.

This blog previously appeared on Lift.


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