News / Ottawa

Marijuana legalization debate has medical users feeling 'left in the dust'

'Nobody cares anymore about us,' says Ottawa medical cannabis user

Ottawa resident Suzi Strand inhales from a vaporizer inside her home on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

Lucy Scholey/Metro

Ottawa resident Suzi Strand inhales from a vaporizer inside her home on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

Suzi Strand kept a small backyard garden last summer.

The Ottawa resident did not have the energy to maintain a large plot of veggies and herbs. She battles a mix of Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and trigeminal neuralgia (commonly referred to as the “suicide disease”).

There’s one plant she wishes she could legally grow in that garden: medical cannabis, which she says would help alleviate her pain.

Strand once had the permit to produce marijuana plants in her backyard. But she got caught in a federal court loophole that has turned her into one of the “left outs” – or one of the users who was not included on an injunction that allowed private home growers to keep growing.

Patients like Strand feel left behind, especially as recreational pot smokers cheer on the Liberal government’s plan to legalize marijuana.

“The sick and dying people laid the groundwork for cannabis in Canada and nobody cares anymore about us,” she said.

“Now everybody is talking about legalization and how some people want to sell it in the LCBO. To me, cannabis is medicine.”

Patients like Strand are stuck waiting on a federal court decision challenging the constitutionality of the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which the former Conservative government introduced in 2013. It replaced a 13-year-old program that allowed patients to grow their own pot with a commercial medical marijuana market.

But many medical cannabis users say they can’t afford to buy from large-scale licensed growers.

Laurie MacEachern, director of the Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Alliance of Canada Inc., said it would cost $50,000 a year for her to buy the medicine she needs for Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, idiopathic neuropathy and a spinal injury. But she only makes $11,000 from her Canadian Pension Plan. In the latest marijuana excitement, medical users are feeling “left in the dust,” she said.

“Everyone is debating and working out how they’re going to look at legalization for everyone, whereas we’ve had a program of some sort for 15 years here now and they haven’t even got that right,” she said.

The Liberals have yet to reveal a timeline on marijuana legalization.

Meanwhile, there are about 40,000 people in Canada who are authorized to possess medical cannabis. Health Canada estimates the number of licenced registered users will grow to 400,000 by 2022.

Belleville, Ont. resident Nate Oxford – a pseudonym he uses to protect his identity – said there’s still a stigma against medical users.

“While people celebrate what seems like overall victories in the cannabis movement, they neglect to remember those who've fought for basic rights to use and pushed for education of health professionals for years,” he said, during a Facebook conversation. “We now face astronomical costs for meds while being ostracized by the community as accessibility and basic rights have become a glaring issue in the face of smoke free policies.”

Although she can’t legally grow, Strand still keeps two pink slips in her wallet – one that once allowed her to produce medical cannabis, the other to possess. They both expired on Feb. 20, 2014. The judge hearing the federal case granted an injunction on March 21 of that year to allow patients to continue growing their own pot if they were already licensed. Strand missed it by a month.

The thought of buying from the street or growing illegally gives her anxiety. But her health is of a greater concern.

“I don’t want to go back to my wheelchair.”

– With files from Torstar News Service and Neal Hall

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