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Cost of medical marijuana to spike, may drive more street trade

Written by: Jonathan Sher, QMI Agency
Jul. 25, 2013

Medical marijuana user Michael Barron smokes marijuana from a glass pipe in his London, Ont. apartment, July 24, 2013. (DEREK RUTTAN/QMI AGENCY)


Michael Barron doesn’t want to become a criminal but says he has no choice.

For six years, the London, Ont., man has depended upon medical marijuana prescribed by his doctor to take the edge off the pain from a variety of chronic ailments such as neuropathic pain syndrome.

But starting Oct. 1, Health Canada is making changes that will drive up the cost of the drug. Barron will have to pay $3,390 for a month's supply - more than triple his only source of income - an Ontario disability payment.

That will leave Barron turning to street dealers - and he could very well be one of thousands.

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“I’m being made to feel like a criminal because I will have to go to the street to buy my medicine,” said Barron, who didn’t want to use his real last name because his family gets upset by the attention.

He won’t be alone.

Health Canada estimates it has approved medical marijuana use for 30,000 Canadians and the number has grown at such a pace the agency predicts there could be 50,000 by next year.

Until now, most of those users grew marijuana themselves or found someone who would do it for them, often in a home with little overhead. They could even buy the drug through Health Canada for a subsidized rate of $5 a gram.

But that regime is being phased out. Starting Oct. 1, no one new will be able to grow medical marijuana for themselves or someone else and starting next April only licensed and heavily regulated commercial producers will be allowed to grow pot.

Health Canada predicts the changes will cause the price of medical marijuana to rise quickly, with users having to pay an extra $1.66 billion over 10 years.

“They’ll all go back to the street,” said Aaron Bott, president of a group that had been helping medical marijuana users find the drug at lower costs, Mobile Access Compassionate Resources Organization Society in Edmonton.

Health Canada said the changes are, at least in part, due to the health and safety concerns from first responders about pot production in private homes.

“Growth in Program participation has had unintended consequences for the administration of the (program), but more importantly, for public health, safety and security,” Health Canada wrote in explaining the need for new regulations.

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