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Abbotsford lawyer sues fed for pot rules

Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy has filed a representative class action lawsuit against the federal government regarding its new medical marijuana laws.

Conroy alleges that the laws violate the constitutional rights of medical marijuana patients when they prohibit patients or caregivers from producing their own supplies, prohibit growing in homes, and limit possession to dried marijuana.

While the case wriggles through the court system, Conroy and five plaintiffs are seeking a quick interim exemption to Health Canada's Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) before the laws go into effect April 2014.

The program that allowed more than 30,000 patients and designated caregivers to produce marijuana for medical purposes ends on March 31, 2014. In its place, a small number of producers licensed under the MMPR will grow pot in large-scale, highly regulated commercial facilities for sale across the country.

With the change, the cost to patients is expected to increase substantially. The price per gram from Canada's first licensed producer under the new rules, CannaMed, has been advertised as $9 to $12. Conroy says that his most experienced clients with home-based grow-ops have brought those costs down to $1-$4 per gram. Most would not be able to afford the anticipated higher prices.

"The information that I've been given is that 60-70 per cent of patients are on disability pensions," said Conroy. "That's why many of these folks learned to grow for themselves, took courses, went to great lengths to create a grow room, and had it properly inspected for fire and mould, and proper security."

Conroy attributes past problems with security, safety, and odour at residential grow-ops to insufficient government inspections.

He also doubts that commercial grow-ops can produce enough supply to meet the needs of the thousands of people in Canada legally allowed to use marijuana as medicine.

"[Residential grow facilities] can be regulated, and the public doesn't have to have the fears that they've had in the past from these sorts of things. It's better to regulate than to prohibit … The last thing we want is sick people who have been approved by their doctors and who cannot afford to get their medicine through the licensed producers to, A, be without their medicine, and B, to then be tempted to go underground," said Conroy.

He filed the constitutional challenge in federal court on Dec. 10, 2013, pro-bono and relying on donations.

"We're going to court to seek an exemption injunction to grandfather or maintain the status quo pending a hearing on the ambit of the constitutional right," said Conroy. "The earlier cases – before there was a so-called government supply – said that the right to produce was part of a constitutional right. The question for the court will be, does that continue under this scenario, or is this scenario a constitutionally viable exemption?"

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