Citing "public safety" concerns around its program for medical access to marijuana, Health Canada plans new regulations to halt home-based marijuana cultivation by April next year and limit production of medical pot to licensed producers.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on Monday announced the new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) to be published in the Canada Gazette next Wednesday (June 19).
The new regulations "aim to treat marijuana as much as possible like other narcotics used for medical purposes," the government said in a release, and "will provide access to quality-controlled marijuana for medical purposes, produced under secure and sanitary conditions, to those Canadians who need it."
"While the courts have said that there must be reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana for medical purposes, we believe that this must be done in a controlled fashion in order to protect public safety," Aglukkaq said.
Health Canada's current Marihuana Medical Access Program (MMAP) has "grown exponentially" from under 500 authorized persons at its launch in 2001 to over 30,000 today, the government said.
"This rapid increase has had unintended consequences for public health, safety and security as a result of allowing individuals to produce marihuana in their homes," the government said.
To "facilitate" the transition from the current program to the new one, both will operate at the same time until March 31, 2014 -- after which the current program will be repealed and Health Canada will no longer produce nor distribute marihuana for medical purposes.
The new regulations will prohibit production in homes and "municipal zoning laws will need to be respected," the government added.
The new regulatory regime, when first proposed in 2011, called for licensed commercial producers to become "the only legal source of dried marihuana for medical purposes."
Health Canada would "regularly inspect and audit" the new licensed producers to ensure they comply with "all applicable regulations," including labelling and packaging rules, the government said in 2011.
Marijuana grown by licensed commercial producers would thus also be subject to "quality standards," unlike the smaller crops grown in homes under the current MMAP, the government said at the time.
Licensed producers under the proposed system would be required to grow the product indoors only, and to supply the product only by registered mail or bonded courier.
Those licensed growers would be allowed to produce any strains of marijuana they choose -- and would also set the price for the product, the government proposed in 2011.
More information on key dates will be provided to program participants and "other stakeholders" during the transition, the government said Monday.
The government reiterated Monday that its new regulations will also "streamline" the process for applicants and health care practitioners, so individual applicants would not be required to provide personal medical information to Health Canada.
Health care practitioners, under the new regulatory regime, could sign a medical document that allows patients to purchase the "appropriate amount (of marijuana) related to their conditions" directly from a licensed producer approved by Health Canada.
The "complexity" and length of the application process for program participants was cited in 2011 as one of the complaints and concerns with the current MMAP.
Among other complaints and concerns Health Canada listed at the time were the "risk of abuse and exploitation by criminal elements," including the risk of home invasion against authorized growers; the fact that Health Canada today only supplies one strain of dried marijuana; and public health and safety risks connected to home-based cultivation, such as electrical and fire hazards, excess mould and poor air quality.