The Canada federal government will not appeal a Federal Court ruling that found the current medical marijuana system unconstitutional and instead will rewrite its rules by the end of the summer to make cannabis more affordable and accessible to patients.
Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters outside Parliament on Thursday – the deadline for appealing last month’s landmark ruling – that the government now has until Aug. 24 to improve the mail-order system, in which about two dozen commercial growers supply roughly 40,000 sick Canadians.
“The Federal Court’s concern was that, under the current regulations, medical marijuana was not appropriately affordable and accessible to Canadians and so those are the parts of the regulations that we are required to address,” Dr. Philpott said. “At this point, I am not going to speculate as to what kind of regulations will be put in place or how the current regulations will be amended, but certainly we will take into respect every recommendation of the court decision.”
The Federal Court case was launched by four B.C. patients who challenged the constitutionality of the former Conservative government’s 2014 overhaul of the medical marijuana system. The updated regulations prohibited home grow ops and established a network of large commercial growers that ship their products directly to customers.
The minister’s announcement comes as her government is preparing a task force to craft rules around the legal sale of recreational pot, which could take up to two years to become law.
Dr. Philpott would not elaborate on whether these changes will allow for storefront sales of medical marijuana or enshrine a patient’s right to grow his or her own marijuana.
Last month’s ruling found the current system “over broad and arbitrary” because it effectively forces patients who used to produce their own marijuana under the old federal rules to choose between their medicine and prison.
“I agree that the plaintiffs have, on a balance of probabilities, demonstrated that cannabis can be produced safely and securely with limited risk to public safety and consistently with the promotion of public health,” Justice Michael Phelan wrote.
John Conroy, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in that case, said he hopes that Thursday’s announcement signals a turning point in the way the government regulates the stigmatized drug.
“When the [previous medical marijuana system] came in, we took 10 years litigating the restrictions to make them constitutional and we were mostly successful,” Mr. Conroy told The Globe and Mail. “Hopefully we’re not going to be in further litigation with what they come down with in terms of [new] regulations.”
Mr. Conroy said he will be back in Federal Court on April 22 asking Justice Phelan to expand an ongoing injunction so that all of the roughly 38,000 patients licensed under the old rules are allowed to produce their own medicine until Health Canada crafts new regulations.
He said he will also be asking the judge to allow those same patients to possess edible forms of cannabis as well as to move their production sites after events such as landslides or kitchen fires stop them from growing at home.
After the ruling, Mr. Conroy promised that the next fight between cannabis activists and Ottawa will be over the two to three hundred illegal pot shops that first cropped up in British Columbia several years ago and now dot the country. He said the judge recognized that the ongoing explosion of these dispensaries is a result of patients “voting with their feet” to ditch the current mail-order system regulated by Health Canada.
Whether it comes as part of the government’s retooling of the existing medical system or alongside the eventual legalization of recreational marijuana, representatives of Canada’s licensed growers say they want the ability to sell their products in stores.