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Canada, a pioneer in the use of marijuana to treat medical conditions, is closing down its government-owned marijuana farm in an abandoned mine near the prarie town of Flin Flon, and is banning home production next year, fearing pot is a "gateway" drug.

Canadians who use medicinal marijuana will soon be prohibited from growing their weed at home. And because pharmacies are refusing to carry it, and HealthCanada is shutting down its underground pot farm that had been an alternative supply, in a few months the only legal way to obtain medicinal marijuana in Canada may be mail order.

Citing concerns for public safety, federal Minister for Health Leona Aglukkaq announced new rules for medical marijuana on June 7, 2013. She stated that "unintended consequences for public health, safety and security" had arisen from the numbers of Canadians--just 30,000--who had obtained lawful prescriptions for its use. But thousands of Canadians who had invested in equipment for growing their own legal marijuana supply could soon find that their investment has no lawful use.

Marijuana Not Always Illegal in Canada

As in the United States, Canada had legal marijuana for much of its history. The drive to make marijuana illegal in Canada had its origins with the demands of the Asiatic Exclusion League, an anti-Asian group in San Francisco and Vancouver that made various racial claims against Americans and  Canadians of Chinese origin, including claims regarding "opium dens."

The use of opium for other than medical purposes was made illegal in Canada by the Opium Act of 1908, although the use of "white drugs," referring to both the color of the drugs and the color of the people who used them, remained lawful. Then through the efforts of a Maclean's writer who wrote under the pen name Jenny Canuck, marijuana was first added to a "confidential list" of potentially dangerous drugs and then banned altogether after the publication of her book The Black Candle, which stated that marijuana was dangerously addictive and that the only ways out of marijuana addiction were insanity or death. Canadian federal regulators decried her "creative license" with facts, but by 1937 made marijuana illegal. Nonetheless, before the 1960's, drug arrests for marijuana in Canada were quite rare and never as common as in the United States.

After Decades of Prohibition, Legalization of Medicinal Use

For the next forty years, Canadian authorities treated the growing and sale of marijuana as criminal activity, reserving especially harsh punishments for persons found guilty of organizing the distribution and sale of pot with others. Even as late as 2008, individual Canadians were prohibited for growing pot "for more than one person," that is, for anyone's use other than their own, and then only with approval of a physician licensed in Canada. In 2008, however, a famous Federal Court case resulted in a rule that medical marijuana could be grown:

  1. By a medical user,
  2. By a person designated as a grower by a medical user, or
  3. By a licensed dealer of marijuana.

These new rules allowed Canadians to grow pot for health maintenance uses for themselves, for friends, or, with a license, for others. The health service also contracted with Prairie Plant Systems to run anunderground marijuana farm in an abandoned zinc mine near the northern Manitoba town of Flin-Flon using marijuana seeds confiscated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in drug raids. Due to economic uncertainties, this farm was shut down in 2009. But in 2013, the situation for Canadians who use medical marijuana changed yet again.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Gray C. Legalize use of marijuana for medical purposes, MDs and patients plead. CMAJ. 1998 Feb 10.158(3):373-5. Review.
  • Roffman RA. Legalization of marijuana: unraveling quandaries for the addiction professional. Front Psychiatry. 2013 May 31. 4:50. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00050. Print 2013. No abstract available. PMID: 23755025 [PubMed].
  • Photo courtesy of Neon Tommy by Flickr :
  • Photo courtesy of Neon Tommy by Flickr :