The lawyer who successfully overturned the former Conservative government's ban on the home growing of medical marijuana is praising a move by the federal Liberals to create a new licensing system for doctor-approved patients.
Kirk Tousaw said the new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, which take effect Aug. 24, appear to be much the same as the old home growing licenses that prevailed until 2014 when the Conservative government tried to outlaw them and force approved patients to buy only from licensed commercial producers.
A Federal Court judge ruled last February that system was unfair to medical marijuana users who wanted to grow their own medicine, or designate someone to do it for them, and gave Ottawa six months to rewrite the rules.
"It looks like it's essentially identical to the old system," Tousaw said. "I'm certainly quite pleased and gratified that the current government seems to be much more receptive to the guidance of the courts than the prior Conservative government."
Patients who are approved under the ACMPR rules will be able to grow five plants per day indoors (or two outdoors) for each daily gram of marijuana they're authorized to use.
An injunction that exempted the 28,000 previously licensed growers from criminal prosecution remains in effect for now because federal officials admit they don't have the capacity to issue new licences to all potential current users at once.
Health Canada says it will evaluate how the new system performs in providing reasonable medical access to cannabis, but will also study other potential delivery models, such as via pharmacies.
A statement issued by the federal department emphasizes the new regulations provide an immediate solution to the federal court ruling, but shouldn't be interpreted as a long-term plan for medical access.
The federal government has named a task force to advise on how it should move next year to legalize and tightly regulate recreational marijuana access.
Big producers concerned
Nearly 70,000 medical marijuana users are receiving pot from the 34 licensed producers.
Those outlets will now be an option for legal access, but not the only one.
The commercial producers will be the only legal source of cannabis seeds or starter plants.
Some representatives of commercial producers of pot reacted with dismay.
But Canopy Growth Corp., owner of producer Tweed Inc., said it intends to offer rent space, genetic stock and supplies in its facilities to customers who would like to grow their own plants, but outside their homes.
The company said it has always supported home growing but called the new rules a policy setback because they do not yet address the problems of diversion to the black market, growing more than the authorized limits and the inability for police to differentiate between legal and illegal pot.
The federal government continues to take the position that cannabis dispensaries, which have proliferated in Vancouver in particular, are illegal storefront suppliers and subject to enforcement.
Tousaw said legal advocates will next be defending dispensaries – which he called the primary access point for most Canadians – following raids in various cities.
He also wants the government to make it easier for more growers to enter the commercial market, even at a small scale.
"It's almost an art to grow extremely high quality connoisseur-grade cannabis," Tousaw said. "People should be able to participate. If you can produce it and meet the lab testing requirements for safety and lack of contamination, then the government shouldn't have any business telling you how you achieve those goals."
Safety fears persist
Municipalities, meanwhile, continue to be concerned that the proliferation of legal grow-ops in residential areas – with a variety of associated health and safety concerns – will now continue unabated with the reinstatement of home grow licensing.
Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis, whose testimony about the dangers of home growing was largely dismissed by the federal court, said he remains concerned about electrical fire safety risks from amateur rewiring and other hazards such as mould and herbicide contamination.
"We've been into almost 2,000 of these places and every one of them had a problem," Garis said, referring to the City of Surrey's system of inspecting home grows it identifies, usually from electricity use records.
"Our opinion still stands that it's not an appropriate medium to be growing anything that involves that amount of humidity and those kinds of alterations to be able to do that."
Garis said while municipalities will likely be forced to respect federal licensing, they can still apply appropriate safety and zoning regulations to try to minimize impacts either on current or future residents of a home, or other neighbours.