OTTAWA – Canada’s Conservative government will soon stop producing and distributing medical marijuana, leaving it up to the private sector in a policy change that angered critics Monday.
Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq made the announcement Sunday, claiming current regulations “have left the system open to abuse.”
“We have heard real concerns from law enforcement, fire officials and municipalities about how people are hiding behind these rules to conduct illegal activity, and putting health and safety of Canadians at risk,” the minister said. “These changes will make it far more difficult for people to game the system.”
Aglukkaq said Ottawa would no longer produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes. Instead, companies will be licensed to grow and sell the product at market rates.
Patients with a prescription from a doctor starting in March 2013 will be allowed to purchase a variety of strains of marijuana from licensed producers, who will set prices.
Doctors, however, complained that they are being asked to write prescriptions for a substance that has not been clinically tested. Some risks, including lung disease and psychosis, are known, while the benefits are only anecdotal, including relief from nausea and pain. And they said they are now being asked to be the sole gatekeepers of the program, accusing the government of abdicating its responsibility.
“It’s the equivalent of asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded,” Canadian Medical Association President Anna Reid told the daily Globe and Mail.
Some 26,000 Canadians are authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes, up from 500 a decade ago, according to government figures. Canada’s health department currently sells marijuana for five Canadian dollars ($5) per gram, a rate it says is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Some patients have said the government stash is weak and so have turned to growing it themselves.