New rules for medicinal marijuana take effect Tuesday (April 1).
The federal regulations have been met with harsh criticism from marijuana advocates. But even ardent opponents have softened their alarm, suggesting that not much is going to change on the ground.
“Nothing really specifically is happening on that day anymore,” said Dana Larsen, campaign director for Sensible B.C. “The main change was going to be the elimination of home cultivation and everyone having to destroy their home-grown medicine, and that’s not happening anymore. The injunction has delayed that indefinitely.”
The new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation (MMPR) forbids patients from growing their own medicine, orders licence holders to destroy pot they obtained under the old rules, and states that the only way people can lawfully obtain medicinal marijuana is via mail order from a small number of large-scale producers.
However, on March 21, a federal judge granted an injunction that prevents the new rules from applying to people already authorized to hold or grow medical marijuana until the courts reach a final decision on the constitutionality of the MMPR.
This means that existing licence holders—of which there are more than 16,500 in B.C. alone—are effectively grandfathered into the old rules. People previously licensed to grow their own medicinal marijuana can continue to do so, and licence holders do not have to obey Health Canada’s order that they destroy pot obtained under the old regulations.
“The only change on April 1 is that people have these new companies as an option to purchase from,” Larsen said. “Other than that, April 1 is not a big day anymore. Nothing much is happening.”
In October 2013, Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang told the Straight that he also didn’t expect much to change when the MMPR takes effect.
“Quite frankly, to be honest, if there has not been an issue with a particular supplier or grower, it doesn’t concern me,” he said about storefront dispensaries. “They are supposed to shut down, but as to whether they will or not, we’ll see.”
The Vancouver Police Department has also spoken publicly ahead of the regulatory change.
A March 5 media release warns that anybody breaking the rules on marijuana could face criminal charges. However, it notes that the VPD has found that most medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver do not meet the force’s criteria for a “priority” target.
Health Canada did not respond to a request for an interview. In the past, communications staff have repeatedly told the Straight that the federal government is currently not giving interviews on the topic of medicinal marijuana.
According to a March 31 media release, Health Canada intends to appeal the federal court’s decision to grant an injunction.
In the meantime, a government website states, “As a result of ongoing litigation and uncertainty arising from court decisions, Health Canada will treat the following Authorizations to Possess, Personal-Use Production Licences, and Designated-Person Production Licences as extending beyond March 31, 2014.”
A separate March 31 announcement introduces a new Health Canada plan to engage the medical community on marijuana for the purpose of crafting educational materials such as dosage guidelines.
That release and others repeatedly emphasize that Health Canada does not endorse medicinal marijuana, and that the federal government is only providing for “reasonable access” because the courts have said it is required to do so.
To coincide with the April 1 regulatory change, Sensible B.C. is holding a “National Day of Action”. Larsen is encouraging people to contact the office of Health Minister Rona Ambrose with messages opposing the Conservative’s new rules.