OTTAWA - It's taking too long to make changes to licences for medical marijuana, with some waiting more than six months for a permit that's only good for a year, critics charge.
Health Canada gives out licences to people with debilitating illnesses and prescriptions from their doctors. Almost 5,000 Canadians have licences to carry weed to ease their chronic pain or help increase their appetites, and just over 3,500 have a licence to grow it.
But some patients say it's taking too long to get a license, to make changes or have it renewed. And they worry they risk being charged with possession or even having their homes raided by police while they wait.
Cheryl MacLellan runs a grow-op collective for licenced growers and users. A former police officer, MacLellan's collective has 45 members. She says while her first licence arrived within six weeks, it's now takes Health Canada up to six or seven months to process them. The department's own goal is 8 to 10 weeks.
"That is unacceptable. You can get an oxycontin prescription, go right down to Shoppers and pick it up," MacLellan said.
It also puts the growers in a bad spot, she said, because of the lag between getting the licence and having to grow new plants. Having once been raided, complete with police kicking in the co-op's door, she doesn't want to go through the experience again.
"We end up growing with expired permits," MacLellan said.
Marie Tripp has filed for an amendment after her doctor doubled her prescription from five grams of pot per day to 10 g. Tripp suffers from fibro myalgia, chronic fatigue and osteoarthritis, but doesn't use any painkillers other than weed. She's dreading how long it could take for both her and her designated grower to get their new licenses.
"They're putting people in jeopardy. Our licences are security and safety," said Tripp, one of the co-op's members.
Both the Liberal and NDP caucuses have noticed the number of complaints they're getting from constituents waiting months for licenses, their health critics told QMI Agency.
"(The government is) making criminals out of patients who need medical help. I just think it's absolutely unacceptable," said Ujjal Dosanjh, Liberal health critic.
A spokeswoman for Health Canada says the division responsible for the licences has changed some of its procedures and "acquired additional resources" to process applications faster.
"It is important to note that since implementing these changes, the Marijuana Medical Access Division has already seen an increase in the number of applications being processed," wrote Christelle Legault in an e-mail.