ON: New Medical Marijuana Regs Show Need For Broader Legalization Policy

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The government’s new approach to medicinal marijuana access is considered a setback for pot policy, says licensed producers, who add that it highlights the need to put in a comprehensive and clear legalized system.

The new system will once again allow patients to grow their own supply or designate someone to grow it for them, in addition to continuing to be able to access marijuana from the medically licensed producers. Producers are concerned because they see it as a return in many ways to the old Marihuana Medical Access Program (MMAR), which was criticized for begin open to abuse.

“There’s certainly a bit of a policy vacuum and a lot of misunderstanding and they need to move quickly to clarify that framework and to build a new system,” Mark Zekulin, president of Canopy Growth Corp., the parent company of licensed producers Tweed Inc., Bedrocan Canada Inc., and Tweed Farms Inc., told The Hill Times. He said the industry is anxiously waiting for the more comprehensive medical and recreational policy framework to take shape.

“While we believe this is a short-term initiative, with a broader overhaul of cannabis policy expected in the coming months, it is still a setback for the advancement of sound cannabis policy and Canada’s global leadership in cannabis regulation,” his company said in a statement the day the announcement was made.

On Aug. 11 Health Canada announced a new set of medical marijuana regulations, Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), to replace the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) on Aug. 24. The announcement and forthcoming change is in response to the Federal Court’s February decision in Allard vs. Canada, where the court found the existing regulations were unconstitutional because they restricted patients’ ability to grow their own marijuana.

In an in interview Mr. Zekulin said he doesn’t think the government “dusting off” the old MMAR was a good policy choice, saying it was done away with for a reason.

The MMAR system first came about in 2001 and allowed access to a Health Canada supply of dried marijuana, or allowed people to personally produce or designate someone to grow it for them. It was criticized as being open to abuses, such as creating another black-market source, and was replaced by the previous government in 2013 with MMPR.

Most associations say they were informally consulted by the Office of Medical Cannabis at Health Canada, are in regular contact with them, and told there would be changes, but not told ahead of time what those changes would be.

“We provided our potential modifications, we thought that should be done to the MMPR and provided our advice on it,” said Colette Rivet, executive director of the Cannabis Canada Association, which considers itself the leading organization of Canada’s licensed producers.

She said her group is supportive of the recent changes, but concerned because it doesn’t do anything to address the forthcoming need of having strong licensed producers in place, producing quality product at the time marijuana is legalized.

“There’s the existing medical market and the investment that’s gone into service it, we’re all already busy and expanding even under medical, but with an eye to recreational, they need to ensure that they create the right environment that attracts the kind of investment they need to have companies like us and others build more facilities and produce more product and grow out,” said Mr. Zekulin, who is a member of the Cannabis Canada Association.

In its announcement, Health Canada stated that “these regulatory changes should not be interpreted as being the longer-term plan for the regulation of access to cannabis for medical purposes,” recognizing that the broader marijuana policy for legalization, access, and regulation is being determined by the government’s task force lead by former cabinet minister Anne McLellan.

The task force is due to report back in November and the legislation is expected to be introduced in the spring of 2017.

“Having a lot of historical experience with this program, we understand that the industry and the regulations will continue to change. We certainly look forward to continuing to work with the government on a long-term medical cannabis framework,” Philippe Lucas, interim executive director of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council and vice-president of research and patient advocacy at production company Tilray told The Hill Times.

He said the announcement wouldn’t change the focus of their lobbying efforts, which are for for lower cost, as well as increased access and product options.

The new system will allow for “reasonable access to cannabis” for qualified patients, said Health Canada. It allows people to register and then produce a limited amount (the lesser of a 30-day supply or 150 grams) of medicinal marijuana for their own use, based on their daily dose, or to designate someone to produce it for them. This will be in addition to continuing their ability to purchase from one of the current 34 producers licensed by Health Canada, supplying around 70,000 Canadians with dried or fresh marijuana or cannabis oil. New though is that producers will now be able to provide seeds and plants to their patients to begin their own home-grow operations.

Throughout the years, the regulations surrounding medical marijuana access have continued to be modified, forcing producers to continually adapt their operations.

“It’s an ever-evolving field, we know it, and even when the rules are clear, the rules are new and there’s always questions about how you interpret different things,” said Mr. Zekulin.

Georgian Bay Biomed president Tim Boosamra told The Hill Times in an email that he remains “intent on advocating for a regulatory framework that promotes a safe and successful industry,” and that he understands the broad policy will take time.

Health Canada said ACMPR will continue to be evaluated that the government is “fully committed to studying other models, including pharmacy distribution,” for medical marijuana access.

The participation of pharmacists as dispensers is something the Canadian Pharmacists Association – the voice of pharmacy and the pharmacist profession in Canada – continues to lobby for. The group expressed disappointment with the new medical marijuana regulations, saying they miss the mark on patient safety.

“Fortunately, the government has another opportunity to improve patient safety in the creation of a new regime for legal access to recreational marijuana,” said association CEO Perry Eisenschmid in a statement.

Health Canada said it will continue to approve new licensed producers and will now register patients who wish to produce their own.

Other changes under ACMPR for producers include new labelling requirements on cannabis oil, being more lenient on the accuracy of weight and volume for products in packages, bringing in new analytical and disintegration testing, and having to notify the health minister prior to a recall.

“The world is really looking to Canada right now for its expertise in medical cannabis,” said Mr. Lucas. “We estimate that the global industry can reach up to $11-billion and Canada has a real opportunity while the eye’s on it to provide some great leadership in terms of policy and access for other nations.”

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: New Medical Marijuana Regs Show Need For Broader Legalization Policy, Say Producers
Author: Rachel Aiello
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Website: The Hill Times