By Laura Baziuk, Postmedia News June 1, 2011
OTTAWA — Francois Arcand says he doesn’t want gravely ill people to think of medical marijuana as their last hope because of all the red tape that surrounds it.
The 42 year old had to first find a doctor who would help him get a Health Canada license to use marijuana to ease his epilepsy. Then he waited a year for approval.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa man found quicker and more personalized relief at a cannabis dispensary.
“Cannabis should have been my frontline therapy and not a desperate last resort,” Arcand said, adding that Health Canada needs to issue more licences.
Arcand said he supported calls in Ottawa on Tuesday by medical marijuana advocates for the federal government to legalize pot dispensaries, as activists launched a national organization to help regulate the businesses.
“Dispensaries should be legally regulated and recognized as a legitimate health-care service,” said Rade Kovacevic, co-founder of the new Canadian Association of Medical Dispensaries.
“We are asking the government to recognize our experience and to work with us to develop a regulatory framework for medical cannabis.”
The non-profit association aims to oversee the country’s estimated 30 dispensaries, which sell a range of cannabis products and strains to buyers who show a doctor’s note and meet other requirements.
Staff plan to accredit the dispensaries — many of which are currently set up as illegal storefronts — in areas such as patient eligibility, dispensing practices, quality of cannabis and community safety, with a goal of ensuring high standards of care.
Marijuana remains illegal in Canada, but residents suffering from illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy can apply to use pot as supplied by Health Canada’s growers or a licensed individual grower.
Marc-Boris St. Maurice, who founded the association and operates a compassion club in Montreal, said dispensaries provide shorter wait times for registration than Health Canada, as well as one-on-one consultations and marijuana products that don’t have to be smoked.
More doctors are referring patients to cannabis dispensaries over Health Canada, advocate and health-care administrator Rielle Capler added.
A Health Canada spokesman said the ministry is currently considering measures to reform its medical marijuana program and its regulations, but reiterated that it does not license compassion clubs or dispensaries.
“Any changes to the program will balance the need to provide reasonable legal access to this controlled substance with the government’s responsibility to regulate it,” the spokesman said in an email.
Kovacevic, who founded a dispensary in Guelph, Ont., pointed to the half-dozen court rulings, the most recent in Ontario, which have found Health Canada’s medical marijuana program to be unconstitutional.
In April, the Ontario Superior Court struck down two key pieces of legislation that prohibit the possession and production of pot after a constitutional challenge by a medical marijuana user. The judge has suspended the ruling until mid-July so the federal government can make its next move.
Kovacevic said dispensaries have been filling the void in supply more efficiently and cost-effectively, and that the association wants to work with law enforcement, government and health-care groups to legalize the service.
“The Canadian government should not be in the business of selling marijuana. We want to relieve them of this burden,” said Kovacevic. “We have over a decade of experience and actually predate the Health Canada system by five years. We can provide a much better quality service.”
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