MEDICAL ACCESS TO MARIJUANA - HOW THE REGULATIONS WORK

Source: Health Canada

The Marihuana Medical Access Regulations and the consequential amendment to the Narcotic Control Regulations come into force on July 30, 2001. The regulations establish a compassionate framework to allow the use of marijuana by people who are suffering from serious illnesses, where conventional treatments are inappropriate or are not providing adequate relief of the symptoms related to the medical condition or its treatment, and where the use of marijuana is expected to have some medical benefit that outweighs the risk of its use.

The Regulations clearly define the circumstances and the manner in which access to marijuana for medical purposes will be permitted. Here is an overview of the regulations and a look at how they will work.

Who is eligible to use medical marijuana?

The Regulations spell out three categories of people who can apply to possess marijuana for medical purposes.

Category 1: This category is for applicants who have terminal illnesses with a prognosis of a life span of less than 12 months. A medical practitioner must provide a medical declaration that states, among other things, that all conventional treatments have been tried or considered.

Category 2: This category is for applicants who suffer from specific symptoms associated with certain serious medical conditions,namely:

  • Multiple Sclerosis: severe pain and/or persistent muscle spasms;
  • Spinal Cord Injury: severe pain and/or persistent muscle spasms;
  • Spinal Cord Disease: severe pain and/or persistent muscle spasms;
  • Cancer: severe pain, cachexia, anorexia, weight loss, and/or severe nausea;
  • AIDS/HIV infection: severe pain, cachexia, anorexia, weight loss, and/or severe nausea; and
  • Severe forms of Arthritis: severe pain.
  • Epilepsy: seizures

Applicants must provide a declaration from a medical specialist to support their application. The declaration must confirm, among other things, that conventional treatments for symptoms have been tried or considered and were found to be medically inappropriate.

Category 3: This category is for applicants who have symptoms associated with a serious medical condition, other than those described in Categories 1 and 2, where among other things conventional treatments have failed to relieve symptoms of the medical condition or its treatment. Declarations from two medical specialists must accompany the application.

The application process

Patients will obtain a guide to the Regulations and an application form on the Health Canada website www.hc-sc.gc.ca or by calling Health Canada's Office of Cannabis Medical Access at (613) 954-6540. It will also explain the application process for a licence to produce for individuals who want to grow their own supply of medical marijuana, or for those who have chosen a designated person to grow the marijuana for them.

Applicants must provide information about themselves, their medical condition, and indicate if they plan to grow their own supply of marijuana, have someone grow it for them, or in the future, obtain it from a dealer licensed by Health Canada.

A physician must complete and sign a medical declaration indicating the nature of the symptom for which marijuana is being prescribed. Specific guidelines for applicants in Category 1, 2 or 3 must be followed. For applicants in category 2, a signed declaration from one medical specialist is required. For applicants in category 3, signed declarations from two medical specialist are required. The physician must recommend a specific dosage for the patient.

The application form must be accompanied by two passport sized photographs, to be used on an identification card issued to applicants authorized to possess. The card can be shown to a police officer as evidence that the person is permitted to possess marijuana.

Health Canada will acknowledge receipt of the application within 10 days of receipt and will indicate if any of the required information is missing. Applications from patients with terminal conditions will be given priority for processing. Processing time for the application will vary depending on the nature of the applicant's medical condition, and whether all of the necessary information has been received.

Applicants who are approved will be notified in writing. If Health Canada anticipates refusing an application, the applicant will receive a letter explaining the intent to refuse. If additional information is not received in response to the intent to refuse, the application will be refused. Any additional information received will be considered in determining whether the application will be refused.

Obtaining marijuana

Holders of an authorization to possess can obtain marijuana for medical purposes from three possible sources:

  • they can grow their own supply;
  • they can designate someone else to grow it for them; or,
  • in the future, they should be able to obtain it from a supplier licensed by Health Canada.

Details on all three options will be provided to authorized persons by Health Canada.

Possessing Marijuana

Holders of an authorization to possess may possess a maximum 30-day treatment supply of marijuana at any given time. For example, a patient whose daily dosage is 3 grams will be allowed to possess no more than 90 grams (3 grams x 30 day treatment) at a given time.

Growing Marijuana

Holders of an authorization to possess can also hold a licence to produce and grow their own marijuana, or they can choose to have a designated person grow the marijuana for them. Applicants are asked to indicate their preference on the application form.

A designated person, or grower, must be 18 years of age or older, and ordinarily a resident of Canada. A grower will be issued a production licence and an identification card. A production licence is required to grow marijuana for medical purposes.

Plants can be grown indoors or outside, providing specific criteria are met. Growers must take the necessary precautions to protect plants and the dried marijuana from loss or theft. The amount of marijuana that can be grown and stored at any time depends on the daily dosage that has been prescribed by a physician, and whether plants are grown indoors or outside.

Information for Physicians

Health Canada will issue a guide for physicians to help them understand their role in the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The guide will provide an overview of the regulations and will outline the physician's role in prescribing marijuana for medical purposes. The guide will be available at the Health Canada website at www.hc-sc.gc.ca.


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