On Friday, March 20, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the first case ever involving medical cannabis (marihuana). Owen Smith, a producer of cannabis-based medicine for a Victoria, BC based compassion club known as the Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada (CBC of C), was criminally charged with possessing THC for the purpose of trafficking after being arrested for preparing a variety of edible cannabis products for the members of the compassion club, all of whom suffer from serious and debilitating conditions.
This case is about whether or not critically and chronically ill Canadians that require, with physician support, access to cannabis (marihuana) for medical purposes can make their lawfully-possessed medical cannabis into edible or topical products without risk of criminal punishment. Currently the criminal exemption created by Canada’s medical cannabis scheme applies only to “dried marihuana” despite the undisputed fact that the therapeutically active compounds in cannabis are found in the trichomes: the resin glands that grow primarily on the surface of the plant. The plant matter itself is inert and has no medical utility.
Long-time medical cannabis advocate and lawyer Kirk Tousaw will make the following argument on behalf of his client: the restriction to dried marihuana only infringes the liberty and security of the person rights of patients by criminalizing their reasonable choice of consuming medical cannabis in ways other than smoking it. Mr. Tousaw will argue that the restriction is arbitrary because smoking is, for some patients, a less effective and potentially more harmful method of taking the medicine and that patients should not be criminalized for making cannabis cookies or infusing cannabis into tea. Both the BC Supreme Court and BC Court of Appeal agreed with Mr. Tousaw’s arguments; the Government of Canada has taken this case to the Supreme Court of Canada by appealing those decisions.
This historic case has the potential to fundamentally alter Canada’s medical cannabis regime and to enable hundreds of thousands of Canadians to lawfully consume cannabis medicines in forms that better suit their medical condition. Mr. Tousaw has urged the high court to read a medical exemption into the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, arguing that it should simply not be illegal for people to produce, distribute and consume cannabis intended for medical purposes. There is no good reason to make patients and their caregivers into criminals and to subject them to long jail terms for trying to gain a better quality of life.
Mr. Tousaw’s submissions are available for download here (PDF).