October 7, 2003
By Luke McCann
Canadian courts ruled on Tuesday that businesses and individuals be allowed to grow and supply large amounts of medical marijuana, effectively relieving the Canadian government of its often criticized and fairly unsuccessful attempts to do so itself.
"What is going to change in Canada is that one person or one company can grow for an unlimited number of people ... and in terms of supply and cultivation, you can now pay people to grow for you," said York University Law Professor Alan Young, a legal counsel to the people seeking laxer growing rules.
He said the ruling will make it easier for sick people to get marijuana by allowing them better access and more choice.
The ruling stems from an Ontario Court of Appeal decision in January that called on the Canadian government to provide a licit source of marijuana to people suffering from illnesses like AIDS and multiple sclerosis, so they would not have to buy it off the street.
In July, Canada became the first country in the world to start selling government-grown marijuana to seriously ill people, an approach markedly different to that of the United States, where the Supreme Court in 2001 upheld a federal ban on medical marijuana.
The new Canadian regulations meant that some 650 sufferers granted dispensation from criminal laws to use the drug were allowed to buy marijuana grown in a government facility in Flin Flon, Manitoba, or buy a pack of 30 seeds to grow their own.
But the sufferers were soon unhappy with the quality of the government-grown marijuana, and the lawsuit attacked the ban on the basis that the federal government had not adequately attended to the needs of sick people.
CANADIAN GOVERNMENT OFF THE HOOK
Tuesday's ruling, as well as allowing sick people easier access to the marijuana that they use to ease pain, or boost the appetite, also lets the Canadian government wash its hands of the business of selling the drug.
The government, which officially recommended that patients put its marijuana in food or drinks rather than smoking it, had been growing the drug in a converted mine shaft.
"When we finish this interview the (government) distribution program will be over," said Young.
"They've been waiting to be relieved of this obligation. They cannot remove their obligation to supply seeds, because that's the necessary first step for someone to grow legally for themselves, but there is nothing in the judgment that suggests the government has an obligation to supply ... and (the government) has always called this policy interim."
While the ruling states that the drug can now be grown privately for more than one person, it also says that anyone wishing to do so needs a license.
Canada's Heath Minister Anne McLellan said she was "heartened" by the court's decision to uphold access regulations for medical marijuana.
It was not clear what would happen to the Flin Flon plant.
Copyright © 2003, Reuters Ltd