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Medical Marijuana & Illegal Dispensaries

This article is meant for informational purposes and is meant to assist people that may want to use marijuana legally for medical purposes in Ontario.  If you plan on accessing medical marijuana: refer directly to the government source documents; speak to medical professionals; and obtain information directly from licensed producers.

I am a criminal defence lawyer and support the legalization of marijuana.

I support legalization not because I believe that marijuana is harmless. In fact, marijuana has not been subject to the rigorous medical testing required for endorsement/approval by Health Canada.  There have been reliable studies about psychosis in young people being brought on by marijuana (most physicians will not prescribe marijuana to patients under the age of 25), smoking is no doubt physiologically harmful, there are people that excessively use and abuse marijuana, and there is the concern that people impaired by marijuana will drive or operate heavy machinery.

Rather, there are several other reasons why I support the legalization of marijuana. For one, jailing and stigmatizing people for the consumption of marijuana is harmful to both that individual and our society as a whole.  The cost to taxpayers of prosecuting and jailing a non-violent person for a marijuana offence simply fails any reasonable cost/benefit analysis.  Also, a criminal record can severely handicap a person’s ability to secure future employment.  Limiting a person’s career over a marijuana-related offence is patently unfair.  Finally, law enforcement cannot effectively end marijuana consumption.  Therefore it would better serve the public for the government to collect tax money from its sale.  Currently, the sale of illegal marijuana supports only the black market and sometimes organized crime.

The criminalization of marijuana has not worked.  Legalizing and regulating marijuana is likely the best course of action.

Marijuana Dispensaries in Toronto – Are they Legal (May 2016)?

The medical dispensaries in Toronto are illegal.  The dispensary owners will tell you it is a grey area.  This is not true.  These dispensaries are possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and also illegally trafficking marijuana.  The purchasers of marijuana at these establishments are possessing marijuana contrary to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

When you use these dispensaries, even with a prescription, you are illegally possessing marijuana.   These dispensaries do not have any government approval or authority to provide marijuana to medical patients.

The Liberal government has promised the eventual legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.  These illegal dispensaries are likely trying to get a foothold in retail space for the eventual legalization of marijuana.  I will explain below how the current regime works and how people in need of medical marijuana can lawfully access their medicine under the current regulations.

The current regulations for medical marijuana does not allow for storefront operations.  The cards, registration process, and prescriptions being required make these dispensaries no less illegal.  Furthermore, storefront dispensaries are not being inspected or regulated by Health Canada because they are illegal operations.  Inspections by Health Canada help ensure safety of the product being produced and provided to patients.

Toronto police currently do not appear to be engaging in enforcement action against dispensaries unless there are community complaints.  The lack of enforcement does not make these dispensaries legal or create a legal grey.  Currently, despite the Liberal government’s promise to legalize recreational marijuana, simple possession offences are still currently being prosecuted when charges are laid by police.   The result is that if you are charged with possession marijuana you are at risk to receive some form of criminal record.

There have been several successful Constitutional challenges with respect to certain aspects of medical marijuana and it remains to be seen what will happen with dispensaries and the current medical marijuana regulations should charges be laid against one of these medical marijuana dispensaries.

We currently do not know how legalization of recreational marijuana in Ontario will actually be implemented.  There are several models of recreational marijuana distribution that are possible including the government selling directly to the public (like the LCBO).

How to Legally Access Marijuana for Medical Purposes (Ontario)

There is currently a regime in Canada in place to allow people with legitimate health reasons to gain access to marijuana.

The old regime required patients to register, receive a government card, and to either grow their own, designate a grower, or receive their marijuana from the government directly.  The new regime is much improved and allows patients with prescriptions better access to various strains of marijuana that may be of use for their particular illness or medical issue.

The Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (the “MMPRs”) allows for patients with a prescription for marijuana from a doctor to access marijuana from a licensed producer.  The licensed producer will require a doctor’s prescription medical document sent to them as an original with a commitment from the patient that the particular licensed producer will be their sole provider of marijuana.  These prescriptions for marijuana can only be valid for up to twelve months.

The licensed producer will provide the marijuana via mail or courier.  Here is a list of government approved licensed producers.

Licensed producers are required to follow regulations for the safety of patients authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes.   Some examples of the safety regulations are:

  • All marijuana products must be in child-resistant packaging
  • Containers all must contain “Keep out of reach of children” labeling
  • Limitations upon the THC and CBD as well as equivalency labeling for oil products to dried marijuana
  • Record keeping for all cannabis products to enable traceability of sales
  • Obligation to notify Health Canada of adverse reactions
  • Compliance with various inspections and testing of cannabis products by Health Canada
  • Specific guidelines on pesticide use in marijuana cultivation

The MMPRs allow a maximum of 150 grams to be possessed by a person or thirty times the patient’s daily prescription (whichever is less).  The average prescription is 4 grams per day.  The MMPRs, in their current state, originally only allowed for dried marijuana until the case of R. v.  Owen Smith was litigated in the Supreme Court of Canada.  Licensed producers are now allowed to provide oils to patients through an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.  Oils allow for easy ingestion for people that do not wish to use a vaporizer or smoke.  Ingestion is useful for patients that want the pain relief effects to last for an extended period of time.  See Canada’s cannabis laws and regulations.

Steps to Obtaining Medical Marijuana Legally

  1. Go see your doctor and discuss whether medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment for your illness or condition.
  1. If your doctor is uncomfortable prescribing or recommending medical marijuana, ask for a referral to a clinic with doctors that are willing to prescribe cannabis for appropriate medical issues.
  1. You can find medical clinics with doctors that are willing to prescribe cannabis in appropriate circumstances online. A referral from your treating physician is not absolutely necessary, however, it is the preferred and safest course.  You will need a physician to monitor your use and progress.
  1. Pick your licensed provider before seeing your physician. Licensed providers will have medical documents specific to their company that you can bring with you to your appointment.  Choosing a licensed provider is a personal choice and preferences will often be governed by shipping procedures, strains available, etc.
  1. See your physician or the referred physician. Keep in mind that medical marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada and is not endorsed by Health Canada.  Research is still in progress about the side effects, long-term effects, and medicinal conflicts of medical marijuana.  Many people prefer cannabis to opioids for pain relief due to reasons relating to liver-function, addiction, and other side-effects specific to opioids.   Make sure you are making the right decision for you with your physician.
  1. Provide your original medical document (prescription) to your licensed provider and register with that licensed provider.
  1. Start ordering. Use responsibly as directed by your physician.   Please remember that only marijuana obtained from your licensed provider in the maximum allowed amount or less is lawful possession (under the MMPRs it would still be illegal for you to possess marijuana not provided to you by your licensed provider).
  1. Treat cannabis like any other dangerous medicine. Do not share (that would be trafficking), keep out of reach of children, and store in a safe place that is not accessible by other people.

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