A recent court decision makes Canada’s federal medical marijuana program a thing of envy. Previously, Canada’s “Marihuana Medical Access Regulations” allowed registered patients to access only dried marijuana. Patients could not legally purchase various derivative products, including extracts, oils, edibles, topicals, and other products that are becoming increasingly popular for patients across the United States. That all changed when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the restrictions on non-dried forms of cannabis, finding that such a prohibition violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canada’s Supreme Court found that the distinction between dried and non-dried forms of cannabis violates patients’ due process rights because it constricts their ability to choose more effective medical treatments. The Court concluded that this distinction “forc[es] a person to choose between a legal but inadequate treatment and an illegal but more effective choice,” acknowledging that alternative forms of non-flower cannabis are reasonably required for treating serious illnesses. The prohibition on cannabis extracts was arbitrary and had no reasonable connection to the purpose of medical cannabis—to promote health and safety for patients. Forcing patients to ingest cannabis only by smoking it, and not through other safer means of consumption, undermined the law’s purpose.
The Canadian Supreme Court also addressed the potential health benefits of medical marijuana in its ruling, something U.S. federal courts have generally refused to do to because of current U.S. drug laws. Ever since the 1970s when the US Congress classified cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic in the same category as meth and heroin, marijuana has been legally deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use.” In 2014 a U.S. District Judge in California considered evidence that might have led to removing marijuana from its Schedule 1 classification. However, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that judge ultimately determined its current placementa as a Schedule 1 drug is constitutional.
At this point we can only envy Canada and hope that either our Congress or our courts will soon begin treating cannabis the same way.