November 11, 2013 3:47 pm
Updated: November 11, 2013 4:07 pm

N.S. patients don’t welcome rule changes for medical marijuana growers

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HALIFAX – In a few months, Canadians who use medical marijuana will have to purchase it through government regulated growers, and it’s not sitting well with people who need the medication.

One of those people is 51-year-old Marcel Gignac of Amherst, N.S., who has had multiple sclerosis since 2008. The disease hit him so hard he had to use a wheelchair and take 27 pills a day. But after he got a doctor’s prescription to use medical marijuana, which he takes in capsule form, within a few months he no longer needed the wheelchair.

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“I had weaned myself off all of the medications and was back to walking and [it] greatly improved my quality of life,” said Gignac, the communications officer of Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Alliance of Canada. “Cannabis has…basically kept me alive when the doctors said I shouldn’t be alive.”

As of April 1, under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, there will be licensed producers from whom patients must buy.

“We had people abusing the system where a lot of marijuana was getting out into the street market,” said Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative MP Scott Armstrong. “By phasing out in-home medical marijuana growth, the new program will save taxpayers dollars, reduce health risks associated with in-home grow-op operations, and it will limit home invasion robberies that take place in some of these places.”

Licensed growers are expected to charge $9-12 per gram.

“[It’s] what they can grow for themselves for three or four cents a gram,” said Gignac. “They’re now going to be forced to pay over $10 a gram for less quality.”

Gignac uses 30 grams a day. He’s on a disability pension and says he won’t be able to afford those prices.

“My cost to grow it outdoors for myself would be $500 for the entire year. My cost at these new prices would be well over $100,000.”

Armstrong says provincial medical plans will determine the terms and conditions associated with medical marijuana.

Leo Glavine, Nova Scotia’s new health minister, knows it will put a strain on provincial coffers.

“When we hear of MS patients or other patients with chronic disease, who are absolutely helped by medical cannabis, then we need to find a path so that their quality of life remains strong for them,” he said.

Kevin Chapman, the director of policy for Doctors Nova Scotia, says the new rules will also put doctors in a difficult position.

“Doctors are not saying this doesn’t work for folks. We’re simply saying we need more research and education into it,” he said. “But introducing a business model into it is not where physicians would have seen this going.”

Gignac says for him, the new rules are already stressful and things will only get worse.

“This new program is going to force patients into bankruptcy, or jail, or both,” he said.

Gignac says because many medicinal users won’t be able to afford to buy marijuana, they will continue growing it themselves, at the risk of getting caught and sent to prison — a penalty he thinks is unfair for people simply trying to ease their pain.

“The misconception is that we’re all a bunch of potheads and stoners and we just want to sit around and get high,” he said. “I don’t get high. I get the ability to talk and the ability to be without pain.”

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