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Canada’s New Medical Cannabis Regulations Allow Patients to Grow at Home

August 12, 2016

Canada’s public health department announced Thursday that medical marijuana patients will soon be allowed to grow limited amounts of cannabis at home. The change, which comes as part of the newly unveiled Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), takes effect Aug. 24.

Many of the rules will stay the same under the new scheme. Health care practitioners will still have sole authority to authorize the use of medical cannabis, but they’ll now also be responsible for recommending the quantity of cannabis needed by patients as well as the number of plants that each patient — or a designated caretaker — is allowed to grow.

The country’s licensed medical marijuana producers will remain the only legal source of regulated cannabis outside of home-grown medicine, Health Canada said. The department’s ACMPR fact sheet specifically condemns dispensaries and so-called compassion clubs, saying the establishments are illegal and “subject to law enforcement action.”

Indeed, the Toronto police raided three dispensaries just yesterday.

Most patient advocates welcomed the announcement. Dana Larsen, the director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society, told Leafly he’s optimistic about the changes.

“Overall, I think it’s a victory and I think we should be happy and proud that we managed to force the federal government to open this up again and let patients grow their own,” he said.

Health Canada’s decision to allow patients to grow cannabis at home comes shortly after a courtroom victory by patients. In Allard v. Canada, plaintiff Neil Allard and three other medical patients from British Columbia challenged a restriction on home cultivation that was part of the country’s previous regulatory scheme, the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR).

The group argued that requiring patients to purchase cannabis from licensed producers without the option for home cultivation was unconstitutional and a violation of their rights, as it limited access to medicine. Judge Michael Phelan agreed, ruling that the prohibition on home grows could no longer be enforced. The court gave the federal government six months to create new rules.

Health Canada said Thursday’s changes will fix the situation. The department “believes that the addition of these provisions enabling individuals to produce a limited amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes will provide for accessibility and affordability, and address the issue of reasonable access identified by the Federal Court,” it wrote.

“We were worried they were going to try to avoid letting people grow again or doing something tricky or forcing us to go back to court, and they haven’t done that,” said Larsen, the cannabis advocate. “We got the new rules and we can work with them.”

This isn’t the first time Canadian patients will be able to grow at home. The country’s initial regulatory scheme, the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) were in effect from 2001 through 2013 and allowed patients to apply for personal-use production licenses to grow their own.

The MMPR was introduced in 2013, replacing the MMAR with a system of licensed producers. The measure failed to account for existing personal cultivation or dispensaries. Patients were told they must give up their right to cultivate cannabis and instead register with a licensed producer and purchase mail-order cannabis through the newly established system.

With Thursday’s announcement, patients regain that right to cultivate.

Larsen, who also distributes cannabis seeds as part of the OverGrow Canada tour, called it a good sign for the future of cannabis in Canada. The country is on track to adopt a measure next year that would legalize cannabis for all adults.

“This bodes well for the idea that all Canadians will be able to grow cannabis for themselves under the new legalization system,” he said. “It’ll probably be a smaller amount, but this makes me more optimistic that every adult Canadian is going to be able to grow a few plants for themselves.”

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Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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