Health Minister Rona Ambrose upset many cannabis activists in late April with her criticism of the City of Vancouver’s plan to license marijuana dispensaries.
“It’s important that people know that marijuana is not a medicine,” Ambrose told CBC Radio host Stephen Quinn. “It has not been approved by Health Canada as a medicine.”
Her comments elicited a chuckle from Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy, who is part of a legal team challenging Health Canada’s rules around growing marijuana for medical purposes.
In the Allard v. Canada case, Conroy has argued that the federal government has infringed patients’ constitutional right to security of the person by criminalizing noncommercial production of cannabis and cannabis-based products for medical use.
“I don’t know if she just misspoke,” Conroy told the Georgia Straight by phone. “It’s been approved for over 14 years in Canada with the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations.”
In the Allard case, which is before the Federal Court of Canada, Conroy and his legal team presented evidence that there have been 38,000 medically approved instances of marijuana being used to treat patients in Canada.
He added that there have been another 28,000 instances in Israel and 14,000 in the Netherlands.
“The usual mantra from Health Canada is, ‘It’s not an approved drug,’ which simply means it hasn’t gone through the new-drug-approval process under the Food and Drugs Act,” Conroy said.
On May 29, Conroy will join another B.C. expert in marijuana litigation, Kirk Tousaw, for a daylong Continuing Legal Education Society of B.C. seminar at the Pan Pacific Hotel on marijuana laws. The event is recommended for criminal lawyers, prosecutors, civil litigators, and business lawyers, but anyone is welcome to attend, even Ambrose, if they’re able to pay the entry fee ($610 for adults, $335 for students, and $535 for live webinar).
In March, Tousaw argued the first medical-cannabis case in the Supreme Court of Canada after the federal government had appealed Owen Smith’s acquittal in the B.C. Court of Appeal and B.C. Supreme Court on trafficking charges.
Smith was originally charged for baking cannabis-laced cookies for a compassion club. Under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, or MMPR, licensed producers of medical cannabis are prohibited from selling edibles, and the case could have a profound impact on the regulation of extracts from marijuana plants.
“Whatever the Supreme Court says in this area is going to have a ripple effect on all the other aspects of medical-cannabis law, including Allard and the right to produce for oneself,” Tousaw predicted over the phone. “We’ll finally get a chance to see what the highest court in the land says about the contours of Section 7 [of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] and how it intersects with the access to medical cannabis. I think it’s an historic occasion.”
Tousaw said the seminar will address more than just the implications of the Smith and Allard cases. “We cover the gamut from civil law to criminal law to zoning law,” he stated. “Suddenly, that’s become a hot topic.”
Conroy said he plans to discuss how laws around marijuana intersect with employment, urinalysis, and driving.
Recently, the City of Vancouver announced that it plans to charge marijuana dispensaries an annual $30,000 licensing fee. Tousaw said he recognizes that the city wants to recover the costs of regulation, but he worries that it will lead to higher prices.
“If marijuana was just legal and not illegal, virtually all of those costs would go away,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. Once again, we’ve got to look to the Harper government and the fact that Ottawa is behind both public opinion and, I think, the changing tides on this issue.”
Kirk Tousaw and John Conroy will discuss the changing legal landscape for medical cannabis at a Continuing Legal Education Society of B.C. seminar at the Pan Pacific Hotel on May 29.