Medical marijuana users ordered to stop growing
Medical marijuana home growers have been ordered by the federal government to provide written notification by April 30 that they've halted production and destroyed any leftover pot.
Authorized personal grow-ops for approved medical marijuana users become illegal April 1 as their licences expire and the country switches instead to a system of regulated commercial production.
Health Canada said in a statement March 14 it will notify law enforcement of any users who fail to comply with the notification requirement, an apparent shift from past refusals to disclose locations to local authorities on privacy grounds.
The new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation allows licensed medical marijuana users – more than 16,000 of them are in B.C. – to buy dried pot only from approved commercial producers via mail order.
Many B.C. municipalities are keen to stamp out medical marijuana home grows, which they say often pose an electrical fire risk to neighbours and may leave mould and other safety hazards behind for future residents.
But most also don't want to take on the burden of fixing what they see as a problem created by the federal government.
Mission Mayor Ted Adlem doesn't support sending police in to enforce compliance with the new medical pot law, even in cases where Ottawa discloses users who have failed to send their notification.
"I'm not interested in throwing people in jail for growing marijuana," Adlem said. "Who's going to foot the bill to close these people down who have not notified and ceased to operate? I'm far more in favour of being able to have my fire inspector check the place out for electrical safety."
He predicts many other B.C. municipalities will also have little interest in making it a policing project.
"I think most mayors are concerned about the cost of doing this. Is it something we really want to be spending our policing budget on? I don't think so."
Mission already knows the locations of about 100 of an estimated 800 local licensed medical growers, he said.
Adlem noted soon-to-be-illegal growers may lie on the federal form and keep growing in defiance of the law.
He said Health Canada's handling of the issue has been "a joke" and the warning that law enforcement will be notified is vague.
Sensible BC campaign director Dana Larsen accused the government of reneging on promises of privacy for medical marijuana users.
"There are going to be some people who lie about it, absolutely," Larsen predicted.
"It puts patients in a difficult position where they have to lie to the government on an official form or defy the government and not send the form in."
He said it's unreasonable to force approved users to throw away "perfectly good medicine" under threat of prosecution and then buy more from new corporate dealers.
The order to destroy unused pot also applies to users who buy from other small growers designated to grow for them under the old system.
"It's putting a lot of fear into patients," Larsen said. "If they don't send this notice back or if it gets lost in the mail when they send it back, Health Canada is going to send cops to their door."
Larsen said a national protest is planned for April 1, when cannabis reform supporters will bombard Health Minister Rona Ambrose's office with phone calls and emails.
New commercial pot producers won't be allowed to supply medical marijuana dispensaries or compassion clubs.
That leaves Larsen, who operates a Vancouver dispensary, in the position of continuing to buy and sell illegally grown pot under the new rules.
"We're not really too worried about sourcing medicine for our patients," he said. "The City of Vancouver recently announced they intend to make dispensaries the lowest priority and not bother us."
Dana Larsen headed Sensible BC's marijuana reform petition last fall. It failed to get enough signatures to force a provincial referendum. Contributed photo.