A $4 million slash to medical mar ijuana research funding announced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty Monday (September 25) led to early celebration among medpot activists.
"It was really exciting this morning when the rumour was that the Tories cut the whole program," says Vancouver Island Compassion Society founder Philippe Lucas with only a small hint of sarcasm.
Turns out the Tories aren't stoner stupid. The "cut" represents money that hadn't actually been allocated, just earmarked for research.
Any elimination of funding for Health Canada's medpot program would, activists argue, have put the feds in violation of the 2000 Parker court ruling that upheld the right to medical pot and killed possession laws.
Newly hired Health Canada spokesperson Jason Bouzanis says, "The [Marihuana Medical Access Division, or MMAD] program is operating as usual," processing applications and selling med cannabis to between 1,200 and 1,400 users.
Bouzanis confirms that only $2 million was ever doled out of the original $7.5 million earmarked for reefer research, while about $5.5 million remains to be spent. Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies has requested that Auditor General Sheila Fraser look into the accounting of all money spent on the program.
Flaherty, known for his budgetary tricks during the Mike Harris years, is playing money magician for the Cons' core supporters with claims of saving "their hard-earned tax dollars" while also appearing to pick on potheads.
Flaherty's spokesperson, Eric Richer, laughs when I ask if the unspent portion of the medical marijuana money is sitting unused in a bank account.
"The money is not in a vault somewhere," he says.
Richer is less forthcoming when pressed to clarify the minister's comment that the feds "will not tell professional researchers what to study."
Do the Tories intend to allow private enterprise to make up for their lack of interest in cannabis research?
Richer laughs. "That's a fair question."
Anyone interested in filling the research void can download the applications from the Health Canada website right now. Amazingly, researcher and cultivator applications are already streamlined to a concise seven pages, unlike the 32-page behemoth medpot users have to fill out.
But there's a catch.
A researcher can't have a study approved until a cultivator licence is granted, but that licence won't be issued until the study is approved.