Ottawa's new rules for obtaining medical marijuana are getting under the skin of some local medicinal users.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/12/2014 (2756 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ottawa's new rules for obtaining medical marijuana are getting under the skin of some local medicinal users.

Richard Barahona, 44, was diagnosed with cancer almost two years ago. He tried more traditional methods of treatment but found they were either worsening his condition or not working.

A medicinal user smokes concentrated marijuana from a bong in Winnipeg.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A medicinal user smokes concentrated marijuana from a bong in Winnipeg.

He says the new system is nothing more than a money grab.

"We should be able to practise our alternative and make ourselves feel better and recuperating in what we're suffering from," said Barahona, a former respite worker who is now a co-owner of Vapes on Main, a downtown medical marijuana café.

"We wouldn't take medicine away from other patients. It's just an opportunity for them (the government) to cash in."

Barahona says the federal government's new system has set prices too high, so he's been forced to go into sketchy areas in the city to get his medicine.

"I sometimes find myself in the back lanes of hotels, buying grams here and there," he said. "I shouldn't have to take a risk to do this."

Until last March, people with a doctor's prescription for medical marijuana were allowed to grow their own supply. Since March, new regulations make a small number of Health Canada-approved companies the only option to get medical marijuana.

Those who were approved to grow their own before March 21, 2014, are still allowed to do so on a temporary basis pending the outcome of a court case addressing the issue. The Federal Court trial is expected to be heard in February 2015.

Bill VanderGraaf is a medical-marijuana user and a co-founder of Vapes on Main. The café is relocating to Albert Street so is closed at the moment, but VanderGraaf said hundreds of people have come by or contacted the café looking for advice and information about medical marijuana.

He said he gets a lot of complaints about the lack of access and the cost of the product that is available.

"The chief complaint is pricing," VanderGraaf said. "It's really expensive."

Health Canada's statistics show about 1,400 kilograms of marijuana were sold by licensed producers between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31. The price ranged from $2.50 per gram to as high as $15, depending on the producer and type of marijuana. The average price was between $8 and $10 per gram.

Health Canada statistics say there were about 38,000 patient authorizations under the old system, and patients who bought from Health Canada paid $5 a gram for marijuana.

Under the new system, there are 13,671 patients registered as of Oct. 31.

There are currently only 15 companies licensed to sell medical marijuana in Canada; seven in Ontario, five in B.C. and one each in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Under the new system, Health Canada has received more than 1,100 applications from prospective producers. Almost 600 have been deemed incomplete, more than 200 have been outright rejected and 35 were withdrawn. Health Canada was still reviewing 301 applications as of Nov. 24, 13 of which are waiting for inspection -- the final step before approval.

c_

VanderGraaf, a former police officer, said people are on long waiting lists and others are paying through the nose for shipping costs.

"It's basically the same as street prices," he said.

VanderGraaf said the government could help by increasing the number of producers, but he said the best solution is legalizing marijuana.

"If the regulations are reasonable we should be able to grow it and take it away from the black market," he said.

He said some dispensaries aren't bothering to get a licence from Health Canada because the process is so bureaucratic.

 

-- with files from The Canadian Press

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca stephen.burns@freepress.mb.ca