Feds pot gouge

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The days of health canada marking up medical marijuana to the tune of 1,500 per cent may be nearing an end. Or are they?

Word from NDP health critic MP Libby Davies is that the office of Auditor General Sheila Fraser is “in the early stages of an audit of certain user fees” being charged medical pot users by Health Canada’s Medical Marihuana Access Division.

The news, confirmed in a May 16 letter from Fraser to Davies, comes hot on the smoke trails of an Access to Information request made by Canadians for Safe Access. It reveals that the government is marking up its homegrown by as much as 1,500 per cent – buying it for $328 per kilo from sole suppier Prairie Plant Systems of Flin Flon, Manitoba, and reselling it to medpot users at $150 an ounce. That’s a cool five grand profit per kilo.

According to CSA’s request for info, cancer patients, people living with AIDS and hep-C and others among the 351 Canadians who receive fed pot have racked up a cumulative debt of $143,000 simply because they can’t afford the pot on government disability pensions.

But Margot Booth, media liaison for the office of the auditor general, bursts my bong when she says, “We haven’t committed to auditing that program.”

Indeed, Fraser’s letter informs Davies that her office is “not committing to audit the specific issues you have raised,” among them the recognition of compassion clubs.

Regardless, Booth wouldn’t be able to confirm whether an investigation is underway, because audits remain private, even to the requester, until a report is made to Parliament.

The financial issues surrounding the program will be the attention-getter, according to CSA founder Philippe Lucas. More than 85 per cent of those living with HIV/AIDS who use medical cannabis obtain it from the black market. Toronto’s two compassion clubs alone are assissting 4,000 sick people. As well as being overpriced, the feds’ pot is not effective.

“There are so many broad problems,” he says. “The gall of placing those charges on the backs of ill Canadians should have all sick and healthy Canadians calling for an audit. Thirty million dollars has been wasted, and probably double that in court costs defending the program.”

The Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS) is currently defending itself before the courts on weed production charges, following a 2004 RCMP raid in which 900 plants were confiscated.

The ensuing constitutional challenge launched by VICS, for which more dates are scheduled this summer in BC Supreme Court, claims that the federal medical cannabis program violates the constitutional rights of critically and chronically ill Canadians by unnecessarily restricting access to the program, supplying an inadequate source of cannabis and instituting arbitrary limits on production and distribution.

Among the star weed witnesses was legalization advocate Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, who wrote extensively about the role of compassion clubs in his 2002 study.

Davies is fuming over the feds’ failure to heed people like Lucas and begin steps to recognize compassion clubs.

“I feel badly for those who depend on this program and face a nightmare in accessing it. I think there’s a general expectation that all government programs are to be managed properly. This one is doing the exact opposite. There’s huge public support for the program and it has a legitimate mandate, but it’s not working properly.”


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