Vancouver News

More medical marijuana legal challenges

By James Keller, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The lawsuits challenging Ottawa's attempted overhaul of the medical marijuana system continue to pile up, meaning the government will be forced to defend the new regulations in multiple courts as patients across the country claim they have a charter right to grow their own pot.

Hundreds of people have filed lawsuits in recent months in various courts, arguing new regulations that took effect in April restricting marijuana production to licensed commercial growers are unconstitutional.

Most of those cases have been delayed until the results of an ongoing Federal Court case, expected to be heard in February of next year, challenging the new regime. The judge in that case issued an injunction allowing many patients to continue growing at home in the meantime.

But three patients in B.C. say their circumstances are too different to simply wait for the existing Federal Court case to play out. Even the injunction in the earlier case, they say, doesn't go far enough to meet their medical marijuana needs.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled the men's legal action can continue, even as the Federal Court hears similar arguments. The federal government had asked for the cases to be delayed.

"The plaintiffs are alleging that the medical marijuana laws interfere with their charter rights in a way that is deeply personal and which has grave impacts on their health," Judge Susan Griffin wrote in a decision posted to the court's website Tuesday.

Griffin said it would be "unjust" to make the three men wait for the Federal Court case, which involves different plaintiffs and a different set of facts.

In the Federal Court case, a group of patients are alleging the updated regulations prevent them from adequately accessing medicine they need, because pot prices were expected to be higher under the new system and patients won't be able to control the strains they consume.

A judge issued an injunction in March that said patients who were previously licensed to grow or possess marijuana under the old rules could continue to do so, though the judge said they could only possess dried marijuana and only 150 grams at a time. Both of those restrictions are contained in the new rules.

The federal government is appealing the injunction.

The B.C. Supreme Court case involves Kevin Garber, Philip Newmarch and Timothy Sproule, who all use marijuana to treat a variety of medical ailments.

Garber, who is also asthmatic, consumes marijuana tea, while Newmarch and Garber also say they prefer to consume marijuana in non-dried forms, such oils or resin.

Their lawsuits argue limiting patients to dried marijuana means they cannot consume it in the way that works best for them.

They also say the 150-gram possession limit means they cannot travel far from home without risking running out of their medical marijuana. They plan to argue the limit infringes on their mobility rights under the charter.

Their lawyer Kirk Tousaw, said he'll be asking for a temporary injunction to exempt his clients from the new rules until their cases are heard, which isn't likely to happen until some time next year.

"If a trial is a year or a year and a half down the line, all that time my clients are suffering, and that's not right," Tousaw said in an interview.

Last week, a Federal Court judge released a decision that affected more than 200 self-represented plaintiffs, many of whom filed statements of claim using a legal kit they downloaded from the Internet.

The judge put those cases on hold until after the existing case is finished, though patients who aren't covered by the earlier injunction will be permitted to ask for their own injunctions.

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