Feb 13, 2023

“Knowing about Canadian drug prohibition allows us to critically reflect on past practices, legal regulation, law enforcement, moral reformers and their agendas, new events and avenues to adopt”

~ Susan Boyd, Busted

There are many synergies in the war on drugs across North America, the deep-seated ideological fight that has been ongoing between the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments. These battles have affected the ability of patients to access and advocate for treatment programs, ensure proper public health oversight, and have made access to evidence-informed treatment with safe, properly dosed, and accessible care a challenge

SensiMED recognizes those that have fought for the rights of patients through constitutional challenges, advocacy, and risking their own personal security. The war on drugs has caused irreparable harm and inappropriately regulated healthcare through punishment, incarceration and litigation against patients.

Fighting for rights has been an incredible and long journey that has created restricted access for patients to be able to access cannabis for conditions that we now understand are beneficial; including chronic pain, cancer care, stress, and a growing list of conditions that are now well established through clinical trials and research.

Cannabis is a plant-based, or botanical product with its origins tracing back to the ancient world. There is some evidence to suggest that its use goes back more than 5000 years. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, cannabis was widely utilized as a patent medicine and described in the United States Pharmacopoeia for the first time in 1850 (Bridgeman and Abazia 2017).

In 1937 with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act, the first Federal restrictions of cannabis use and sales occurred. Subsequent to the act of 1937, cannabis was dropped from the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1942 with the first legal penalties for possession increasing in 1951 and 1956 with the enactment of the Boggs and Narcotic Control Acts respectively, and prohibition under Federal law occurring with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

In Canada, cannabis consumption was banned in 1938 under the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition has written an excellent recount of the history of Canadian drug prohibition, which has been rooted in racism and colonization. It is important to understand this history, and how harmful the stigmatization of plant medicine has created a mischaracterization of patients that continues today.

Cannabis was first legalized for medical consumption through the Allard v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2016 FC 236. The court was challenged by four medical cannabis users who argued that the MMPR restricted access to their medication, thereby violating their rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The first enactment that provided access for medical patients was the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) which allowed patients to access authorization through their physician to obtain authorization to hold marihuana for medical purposes. In 2001, this allowed patients to grow their own, or obtain it from a Health Canada licenced producer, or from Health Canada directly.

In 2013, the MMAR program was replaced with the MMPR, which imposed strict regulatory control on the right to produce and distribute products. These restrictions were similar to pharmaceutical controls, and patients were only able to obtain medical marihuana by mail order from licenced producers.

In February 2016, the judgement of the Allard case ordered that the MMPR regulations are declared of “no force and effect”. It also suspended the judgement for six months while the courts figured out an alternative to the MMPR policy.

In November 2017 Bill C-45 The Cannabis Act reversed the prohibition of 1923 and passed along with its companion Bill C-46 which amended the Criminal Code and allowed for national use of cannabis by individuals over 18 years of age, along with possession of 30 grams for personal use.

On June 19, 2018 the Canadian Senate passed the bill with much debate and on October 17, 2018 the Liberal Government legalized cannabis for recreational use with strict restrictions on sales, licensing and marketing.

Medical cannabis remains the only way to have your cannabis consumption monitored, and to have appropriate dosing, product recommendations and oversight. Medical cannabis is a way to allow your consumption to be deducted from your taxes, or often, claimed on your HCSA (Healthcare Spending Account). With legalization in Canada, the medical cannabis patient could access regulated cannabis at the dispensary. Although this is a faster way to obtain cannabis, it lacks the oversight of a healthcare professional. If you are on medications, have a history of mental health, or have not previously used cannabis for your symptom relief, speaking to an expert and purchasing your cannabis through a medical marketplace means that your consumption and healthcare are monitored, and your symptoms can be tracked.

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