Changes will see grow-op licenses revoked, prices more than double

thumb Photo_Marijuana400x300Calgary users and growers of medicinal marijuana are predicting upcoming changes to Ottawa's pot policy, which will force some patients to access weed illegally.

On March 31, 2014, Canada's new marijuana policy will take away existing licenses that give patients the right to grow their own pot.

The changes will also affect larger commercial growers, which are projected to increase prices from $4 per gram to $8.80 per gram.

The new policy, laid out in Health Canada's Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, or MMPR, replaces the existing program, called the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations, or MMAR.

Designated Growers Losing Their Licenses

Calgarian Grant Cluff lives with multiple sclerosis and for years has had to deal with muscle buckling and spasms. His constant pain from MS forced the former high school history teacher to retire.

Produced by Kyle Napier

Cluff has been legally growing his medicinal marijuana since 2001, but will lose his license with the new changes.

"Only through growing can I afford to reap the benefits of this plan," Cluff says.

Prior to being licensed, he had been prescribed "a cocktail of drugs," which he says damaged his body and drove him to depression – and almost suicide.

"Baclofen weakens the muscles but does control spasms," Cluff says. "It's a trade-off, whereas I don't have to make that trade-off when I use marijuana.

"The fact is that I don't need other drugs, mostly because the marijuana is all-inclusive. It handles just about all of my ailments."

Since 2001, Cluff has been able to consume an ounce of home-grown marijuana daily to treat his symptoms. Lately, he has been juicing the leaves with raw carrots, which he says has minimal cognitive effects, but still treats his physical symptoms.

Having invested thousands of dollars on his hydroponic system, Cluff is concerned he will be left with the expensive equipment, but no legal garden.

"If those changes do happen, it's going to drive people like myself and others into clandestine (transactions) – because nobody can afford $8 a gram."

Health Canada Defends Decision While Calgary MP Remains Silent

Health Canada manages Canada's medicinal marijuana programs.

In August of 2012, a report by Health Canada stated there were roughly 22,000 Canadians with licenses to consume medicinal marijuana. Of these users, 80 per cent possessed designated licenses to grow.

Stephane Shank, a media relations officer for Health Canada, said the rationale for collapsing the program is laid out in a government report. In it, Health Canada highlighted concerns raised by law enforcement and fire officials who have connected home-based grow operations to increased potential for house fires, mould, illicit selling and home invasions.

The document did not directly address what growers like Cluff are supposed to do with their medicinal marijuana garden equipment once the current program is shelved.

In a telephone interview, Shank responded, "The department can't address that because it's not in Health Canada's mandate to tell those individuals what to do.

"The equipment belongs to individuals, and it's up to them what they do with it."

Conservative Member of Parliament, Deepak Obhrai, was contacted twice by the Calgary Journal about his government's decision to take away growing privileges from people in his constituency, such as Grant Cluff. Obhrai declined to comment.

Medicinal User Frustrated With Jump in Price

Since 2001, Calgarian Fred Bell has been ordering his medicinal pot online through groups like the BC Compassion Club Society and designated growers in Calgary.

marijuanaSince 2001, Canada has allowed certain patients with debilitating conditions to purchase, use and grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. On April 1, 2014, many of these patients will lose access to sustainable means to this medication.

Photo courtesy of Scott Beale/
He uses marijuana to treat irreparable nerve and muscle damage to his hip that will likely leave him on crutches for the rest of his life. Without medication, Bell says he endures constant pain and experiences occasional leg seizures.

Bell predicts two things will happen once the new rules come into effect — people will resort to illegal means to access marijuana, or they will return to drugstore pharmaceuticals.

"If they charged $8.80 a gram, I can almost 100 per cent guarantee the people on this program are either going to continue their grow without legal representation, or they're going to go the way of pills."

Under the new policy, Bell predicts he'll have to resort to once again using pills that he insists damaged his organs and led to surgeries.

"I'm going to have to go with what worked before, which was being drugged out of my head, because it kills the pain," Bell says.

"I don't want to be back on those pills."

The new medicinal marijuana policies are expected to roll out in April, 2014.

Editor's Note: The Calgary Journal contacted Grant Cluff's member of parliament, Deepak Obhrai, twice, to speak towards what Cluff is expected to do with his expensive equipment. Both attempts to allow him to provide a voice to the issue have been refused.

Correction: This article has been updated to indicate the price changes are based on projections.