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Medical marijuana users can continue growing from home after feds lose appeal

Patients have argued the switchover to commercial producers is unconstitutional
HOME IS WHERE THE POT IS Medical marijuana users will be able to continue growing pot at home at least until a case is settled in federal court later this year. Photo by Iriana Shiyan / Shutterstock

Medical marijuana users will be permitted to continue growing pot at home after the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a decision last month that would exempt patients from a massive overhaul of Canada’s cannabis laws.

Regulations introduced in 2013 shifted the production of medical marijuana to licensed commercial producers, preventing users from growing cannabis at home, a move that is being challenged by a group of patients in a case that will be heard this year.

In March, home growers with personal production licenses won a last-minute reprieve allowing them to continue growing their own pot at home until the case is resolved. Ottawa appealed, but the Appeal Court upheld the injunction in a unanimous decision Dec. 15.

It’s another win for the plaintiffs in the federal case who’ve filed a constitutional challenge arguing that forcing patients to source pot from commercial producers violates their right to access essential medicine at an affordable rate. Most commercial producers list their cannabis at between $8 and $10 a gram, although prices can go as low as $2 and as high as $15. Many personal growers have been able to produce pot at between $1 and $4 cultivating at home.

“(You can't) expect patients to sit around and suspend their constitutional rights while waiting to see if the licensed producers can come up with a market they can afford," said Abbortsford lawyer John Conroy to Pique back in March. Conroy is leading the fight for medical marijuana users in the country, and sought the injunction to allow users to grow at home.

Patients have also complained about the lack of control they have over their preferred strains and a lowering of quality under the new rules.

“(Growers) are able to create genetics specifically for them that help their conditions that they may not be able to find again, or will have to go through that whole process of finding those genetics again through a licensed producer,” one Sea to Sky home grower told Pique last year.

The federal trial is set to begin in February.

There are currently 15 commercial producers licensed to grow medical marijuana throughout Canada, including the Whistler Medical Marijuana Company, operating out of a 10,800-square-foot facility in Function Junction.

Whistler officials have limited the production of medicinal pot to one facility in the community. Both Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and former fire chief Rob Whitton previously expressed concerns over Health Canada’s lack of resources to ensure that home-grow operations meet applicable safety standards if the federal court decides personal producers must cease operations.

“The municipality doesn't want to take on the issue of going in and checking for mould and proper and safe conditions,” Wilhelm-Morden said in March. “We just don't want to go down that road, but public safety continues to be my concern in this issue.”

There are 18 licensed home grow-ops in Whistler.

As of last year, nearly 38,000 Canadians were licensed to use medicinal marijuana. Health Canada has said it does not know how many patients continue to grow their own medicinal pot following the federal injunction.

More than 13,000 patients have registered with the new commercial producers, which sold 1,400 kilograms of marijuana between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2014.

Check back with Pique this Thursday for more on this story.