OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that effectively loosened Ottawa's control over access to medicinal marijuana.
The federal government had essentially controlled a monopoly over medicinal marijuana by concentrating its growth at an underground mine in Manitoba, and only allowing commercial growers to provide the drug to one customer at a time. Authorized patients were also allowed to grow their own supply of marijuana.
The government had argued that growing its marijuana predominantly at one source was the only way to provide a safe and sufficient supply, but ran out of appeals with Thursday's announcement by the Supreme Court.
"This type of litigation, which was challenging the restrictive nature of the government program, started in 2002," said lawyer Alan Young, who was relieved the long legal challenge appeared to be drawing to a close.
"It's taken seven years for this resolution, and finally Health Canada has their marching orders. Now it's a question of whether we can compel this department to actually do what the courts have said they should do, which is provide compassionate access to people."
In January 2008, a Federal Court judge declared the government's Medicinal Marijuana Access Regulations invalid on the grounds they violated the charter rights of patients and their ability to rightfully access the drug.
The Ontario Court of Appeal had also made a similar ruling previously, and the federal government unsuccessfully appealed both decisions.
A panel of Federal Court judges said they were concerned that Health Canada didn't appear to have a good sense of whether patients' needs were being met by the government's marijuana supply.
Young said he looks forward to getting more commercial growers operating legally and helping patients cope with their illnesses.
"Hopefully some very good cultivators will be supplying medicine to sick people, and Health Canada can then monitor it in a very effective way. That's what I've been telling them for eight years."