Canadian Supreme Court rules Medical marijuana legal in all forms

CBC Medical marijuana patients will now be able to consume marijuana — and not just smoke it — as well as use other extracts and derivatives, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled today.

The unanimous ruling against the federal government expands the definition of medical marijuana beyond the “dried” form.

The country’s highest court found the current restriction to dried marijuana violates the right to liberty and security “in a manner that is arbitrary and hence is not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Restricting medical access to marijuana to a dried form has now been declared “null and void” — Sections 4 and 5 of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, which prohibits possession and trafficking of non-dried forms of cannabis, will no longer be in effect.

The respondent in this case, Owen Smith, called it “a very emotional day.”

“I’m proud and really happy today for all those people who are going to benefit from this ruling,” he said at a press conference in Victoria, B.C.

The decision upholds earlier rulings by lower courts in British Columbia that said they went against a person’s right to consume medical marijuana in the form they choose.

Many users felt smoking it was even potentially harmful. However, methods such as brewing marijuana leaves in tea or baking cannabis into brownies left patients vulnerable to being charged with possession and trafficking under the law.

According to evidence submitted to the trial judge, it came down to forcing a person to choose between a legal but inadequate treatment, and an illegal but more effective choice.

Federal health minister ‘outraged’

“It’s a positive — it’s a great thing for patients … and people who need extracts who can’t smoke their cannabis or don’t even want to in the first place,” said David-George Oldham, founder of The ARC, a consortium of cannabis patients, doctors, activists and chemists.

SCOC Medical Marijuana 20150611

David-George Oldman smokes marijuana outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

“Imagine smoking seven grams of cannabis when you’re having a migraine so bad that just moving your fingers is excruciating pain,” he said during a scrum outside the Supreme Court.

“Taking a [cannabis] pill is a lot more sensible and having pills stocked in my cupboard makes a lot more sense than having just raw cannabis out and about in my house.”

The federal government, however, isn’t pleased.

“Frankly, I’m outraged by the Supreme Court,” said Health Minister Rona Ambrose.

“Let’s remember, there’s only one authority in Canada that has the authority and the expertise to make a drug into a medicine and that’s Health Canada,” she said during a press conference.

“Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which of course, requires a rigorous safety review and clinical trials with scientific evidence.”

Arrest of pot baker sparked court challenge

The case stems from Smith’s 2009 arrest in Victoria.

Smith, a baker for the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, was found with more than 200 cookies and 26 jars of liquids, including cannabis-infused massage oils and lip balms. The baker was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Marijuana ruling - Owen Smith pot cookie baker

Owen Smith was caught baking more than 200 pot cookies for the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club in 2009. (CHEK)

The club delivers medical marijuana products to its members, but doesn’t have a licence to produce it.

At his trial, Smith argued that the law under which he was charged was unconstitutional and violated Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

The British Columbia trial judge agreed and acquitted him. A B.C. Appeal Court also ruled in Smith’s favour, under the principle that no one can be convicted of an offence under an unconstitutional law.

The federal government then appealed that decision to take his case to Canada’s top court. Thursday’s decision affirms Smith’s acquittal.

The Appeal Court had also suspended its declaration for a year to give Parliament time to rewrite the law. The Supreme Court has now deleted that suspension, saying otherwise it would “leave patients without lawful medical treatment and the law and law enforcement in limbo.”

Ambrose said the federal government will fight against the court’s “normalization” of marijuana.

“We will continue to combat it. We will continue our anti-drug strategy, we will target youth with the message that marijuana pot is bad for them,” the minister said. “We’ll continue to work with medical authorities across the country to make sure they’re involved in the message.”


2 thoughts on “Canadian Supreme Court rules Medical marijuana legal in all forms

  1. Smoke yet to clear for licensed pot producers after court green-lights edibles
    Medical pot ruling hazy for producers
    [NB: 2nd to last paragraph]
    Posted: Friday, June 12, 2015 5:56 pm | Updated: 6:00 pm, Fri Jun 12, 2015.
    Geordon Omand The Canadian Press |
    VANCOUVER — Marijuana-medicated brownies, teas and oils are now on the menu for patients who prefer ingesting their treatment, yet commercially licensed pot producers say a high court ruling doesn’t set out clear directions for them.
    Lawyers at the cannabis industry’s national association are hashing out the impact of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Thursday that struck down limits on what constitutes legally allowable forms of medicinal pot.
    “It’s certainly confusing,” said Eric Paul, a director on the board of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association.
    “Does this mean the legislation we’re governed by … gives us the right to provide oral products or edibles or some other form?
    “The answer is that it’s not clear at the moment.”
    The high court decision gives medical marijuana users the right to both possess and consume cannabis derivatives, such as edibles and extracts.
    Federal legislation previously stipulated that medical pot could only be produced, sold, possessed and consumed in its dried form, such as by smoking or using a vaporizer.
    The unanimous court ruling came into effect immediately. It allows authorized users to both possess and consume marijuana products in alternative forms.
    But many commercial producers say they’re opting to wait for guidance from the federal government.
    “Nothing has changed for us as a result of (the decision) and nothing will change until we receive a judgment from Health Canada,” said Neil Closner, chief executive of Ontario-based producer MedReleaf. “It seems to me it’s status quo.”
    Greg Engel, head of Tilray in British Columbia, agreed.
    “At this point we are only in a position to continue to sell dried medical cannabis in the same form as we are today,” he said. “This ruling doesn’t mean licensed producers can do anything different.”
    Even the question of whether authorized medical users are allowed to convert dried marijuana into edibles and extracts is somewhat ambiguous, said an observer who played a prominent role in the legal case.
    “I think there’s a little bit of a lack of clarity,” said lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who represented the successful plaintiff. “The impact on a supply option for those derivative options is really what’s unclear.
    “But it seems reasonable that if you have a right to possess a substance you ought to have a corresponding right to produce it for your own consumption.”
    Tousaw argued the case for Victoria resident Owen Smith, whose 2009 arrest for marijuana possession formed the core of the Supreme Court decision.
    But the lawyer who represented the B.C. Civil Liberties Association on the case said he believes the right to produce cannabis derivatives extends beyond individual users to large-scale licensed producers.
    Since it’s now lawful to possess marijuana derivatives, it follows that the government is also required to allow a legal supply source, said Jason Gratl.
    He referenced a recent case in the Ontario Court of Appeal, which concluded that in the absence of a lawful source of marijuana for licensed users, suppliers were immune from conviction.
    Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose said Thursday she was “outraged” by the ruling and noted that marijuana has never faced a regulatory approval process through Heath Canada.


    More Medical Research Mike Hager

    It may take up to five years before clinical trials could confirm many of marijuana’s touted benefits, which is forcing doctors to grapple with a backward federal system in the meantime, says the president of the Canadian Medical Association.

    Chris Simpson says physicians should not be prescribing medical marijuana in most cases because of the dearth of clinical research, despite efforts by commercial cannabis growers to fill the void.

    Vancouver’s pot shops: Everything you need to know about marijuana dispensaries

    Video: Illegal marijuana dispensaries increasing in Vancouver

    Video: B.C. cancer patient makes his case for pot edibles

    “We’re looking for the evidence to support a drug that’s been made available, where usually it’s the other way around,” Dr. Simpson told The Globe and Mail. “We know that there’s a history in medicine of lots of things that seem promising, but once they’re subjected to the rigour of scientific inquiry, they turn out to be either not as good as advertised or harmful, rather than helpful.”

    Dr. Simpson, however, does support the use of medical cannabis by terminally ill patients, those in palliative care, and said there is some evidence that a compound in the drug can help reduce seizures.

    A year after the federal government overhauled the medical marijuana system, Health Canada has approved only one clinical pot trial, which involves patients with arthritic knees.

    A University of British Columbia study of treating posttraumatic stress disorder could be approved as early as this September and another clinical trial led by an HIV/AIDS researcher at the same university could get approval and begin recruiting patients within a year, after announcing last week that he had received a million-dollar grant from another commercial cannabis grower.

    In last week’s Supreme Court of Canada decision ensuring marijuana patients’ right to edible forms of the medicine, judges accepted that cannabis has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties, increases the appetite of those taking other drugs, such as AIDS patients, and can help fight nausea for those undergoing chemotherapy.

    Still, they agreed with a ruling from a lower-court judge that stated more medical research was needed on cannabis.

    Without much clinical data, Dr. Simpson is concerned that most of the 19 licensed producers will continue their aggressive “educational outreach” campaigns targeting Canada’s doctors, who, as gatekeepers, haven’t received meaningful prescription guidelines from a federal government that doesn’t endorse marijuana as a medicine. Barred from advertising their product to the public, he says these growers are “getting around” government rules by mass e-mailing doctors and putting on exhibits at health conferences.

    “It’s quite slanted,” Dr. Simpson said of the information the pot growers provide. “We’re not seeing TV ads, but they’re aggressively marketing to physicians.”

    Brent Zettl, CEO of Prairie Plant Systems Inc., the licensed grower behind the osteoarthritis study approved by Health Canada, is worried much of the research funded by his competitors isn’t rigorous enough to sway the medical establishment. He said his company has spent more than a million dollars over the past three years preparing for the study and that funding such research “is not for the faint of heart.”

    “It’s a right [sic] of passage: you’ve got a well-established system for medical trials in this country,” Mr. Zettl said. “To circumvent that is to circumvent a system that’s … proven and tried over a very significant period of time.”

    Mr. Zettl, whose company was the federal government’s lone supplier of medical marijuana for 13 years leading up to the new system, said Canada’s cannabis researchers could have led the world in their field if the federal government hadn’t stopped almost all funding about a decade ago.

    “If you talk to any researchers, they thought that was critical money that was set up for independent research,” Mr. Zettl said.

    About a decade ago, Health Canada cancelled funding for a study on marijuana and AIDS patients in Toronto. Later, the department it stated that it believed clinical research was best funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

    But drug companies have been loath to research marijuana because it offers no clear return on their investment.

    Arthur Caplan, a world-renowned medical ethicist, said it’s disappointing that Ottawa isn’t funding “a few studies” on the medicinal benefits of marijuana.

    “It’s a big enough issue that you’d expect the government funding to be there,” said Mr. Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University’s school of medicine.

    He added that due to the inherent conflict of interest, many in the medical community, rightly or wrongly, will likely be suspicious of pot research funded by commercial growers.

    “There certainly is data that shows when a drug company sponsors a trial they tend to get more positive results,” said Mr. Caplan.

    He cautioned that no matter how much valid data exists, some doctors still won’t accept that the stigmatized drug has any medical benefits.

    “It’s not clear that this fight is all about evidence, some of it is about the fear that medical marijuana may go to recreational [users] as it has in the States,” Mr. Caplan said. “In the States, I think the argument was not going to swing on evidence, what happened was politics in favour of letting people use medical marijuana just overwhelmed the opposition.”

    Pot study to look at drug’s effects on osteoarthritis

    Sponser: Prairie Plant Systems Inc., parent company of licensed marijuana producer CanniMed, based in Saskatoon.

    Study: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial gauging effect of various strains of vaporized cannabis on adults with painful osteoarthritis of the knee. It will compare how seven strains of cannabis with different ratios of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (known for its psychoactive properties) and cannabidiol (which is reportedly more therapeutic) affect each patient and their levels of pain.

    Partners: McGill University, Dalhousie University and lab company Algorithme Pharma Inc.

    When: Recruitment of 40 participants will begin next week and the company expects the study to be fully completed within a year.

    Reason for study: Roughly 36 per cent of patients registered under the old federal medical marijuana system reported using the drug to treat their severe arthritis.

    Cost: The company will only say it has spent more than a million dollars in the three years preparing for the trial.


    Video: B.C. cancer patient makes his case for pot edibles
    Large study says U.S. medical marijuana laws don’t foster teen use
    UBC researcher gets $1-million grant to study link between pot, HIV/AIDS


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