2 min

Blowing smoke

Do feds make it too difficult to access medical marijuana?

Pot proponents will be taking their message to Queen’s Park on Sat, Aug 21 in an effort to prove that there’s public support for legalized marijuana.

“We want to get the message out to people and encourage them to become activists, to become active in any way and to overthrow the prohibition that has lasted too long,” says co-organizer Marko Ivancicevic, a cofounder of Cannabis In Canada.

Although the ultimate goal of the organization is the legalization of marijuana use and possession, an intermediary aim is improved access for people with medical conditions including HIV/AIDS.

Ivancicevic says that he’s heard a lot of negative feedback about the quality of marijuana that Health Canada has been able to supply to medical exemptees. “The patients aren’t getting their health needs met,” he says. “There are more people sending it back and saying they don’t want to smoke it than there are accepting it.”

Health Canada’s Office Of Cannabis Medical Access (OCMA) also reported dissatisfaction with its marijuana product through recent consultations with stakeholders. The feedback, solicited as part of the ongoing process of amending Canada’s Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), also included concerns about misuse of information given to police about medical exemptees and a desire for simplification of the application and renewal process.

Currently in order to be approved for medical marijuana use a patient has to apply for exemption through the OCMA and find a doctor who is willing to vouch for them.

“They have lists of doctors available to sign these documents but they will not give them out,” says Jim Burgess, a volunteer with the Toronto Compassion Centre.

“It’s like saying, ‘Here little kid, here’s a candy but you can’t have it.’ It’s a piss off. You’re playing with people’s lives.”

Burgess has been living with HIV for more than 20 years. He says that regular use of marijuana helps him to maintain his weight and reduce his stress levels.

He got involved with the Toronto Compassion Centre, an underground, not-for-profit organization that facilitates access to therapeutic marijuana, after a violent robbery of the centre threatened to shut it down.

“Now I’m the longest standing volunteer left. A lot of people have abandoned the cause because they couldn’t handle the stress or they got too sick to continue.”

Although he wants Health Canada to make it easier for patients to receive medical marijuana, Burgess would ultimately like to see pot legalized and available through a Crown corporation comparable to the LCBO. “Decriminalization isn’t the way to go,” he says. “Legalization is the way to go.”

Ivancicevic agrees and is looking to launch a constitutional challenge against anti-marijuana legislation. He was arrested in January for marijuana possession and has a November court date, but he’s concerned his case will never make it to trial.

“As soon as you say you want to challenge it they plea bargain or dismiss it. They don’t want any other case to come forward to set a precedent,” he says, referring to a series of cases that have called into question the legality of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Although the Supreme Court has since ruled that the law does not violate the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, Bill C-10, which would clarify the legalities of possession of small amounts, has yet to be passed by Parliament.

*For more information check out For more on the Toronto Compassion Centre go to