Pot growers in limbo

Economical remedy: Diana Altschul is fighting for the ability to produce the herb which she says makes her life more bearable.  - James Murray/Observer
Economical remedy: Diana Altschul is fighting for the ability to produce the herb which she says makes her life more bearable.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

For Diana Altschul, the issue of small medicinal marijuana growers possibly being shut down is not a theoretical one – it’s one that would affect her life in a big way.

Altschul acquired a licence to grow marijuana in 2008, when her spouse was dealing with the effects of cancer and she was living with chronic pain from a hit and run that broke her back and shattered her foot.

The licence was renewed each year and, after her partner died and she had to move to low-cost housing, it was transferred to a designated grower.

“To legitimately find a legitimate honourable person to cultivate your number of plants is very hard to come by,” she says, noting she grew about 25 plants per year that produced about four pounds of pot.

“I make a lot of it into a butter; it’s quite economical,” Altschul says, noting it allows her to eat, sleep and fight depression.

“I am a certified herbalist, I didn’t want to associate with the black market,” she says, noting that she had developed designer strains to knock out chronic pain and nausea, and was working on depression.

Altschul competed in the 2013 Launch-A-Preneur program where her plan for a business, Trans-Herbalcooks, which would produce hemp and cannabis products for medicinal uses, earned fourth place out of 17 teams.

“I have tried to cultivate my own medical cannabis because it’s so beneficial to me. I’m resentful and taking this quite personally,” she said in March of the federal government’s new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, initially set to come into effect April 1, that would have allowed only large commercial operations, and no personal-use production licences, to grow medicinal marijuana. Small growers who didn’t destroy their plants and seeds and dismantle their grow-ops would be breaking the law.

Since then there has been an about-face, due to a legal challenge to the regulation. A Federal Court judge ruled on March 21 that anyone already licensed to grow marijuana may continue to do so, until a legal challenge goes to trial. Altschul is part of that class-action suit.

Altschul noticed room for improvement in the application process from day one.

She thinks small growers of medicinal pot should have been required to have the authorization of a specialist, not simply a general practitioner,  before being provided a licence, a stipulation she believes would have eliminated those who were doing it for monetary gain.

“That would have ruled out a lot of the gangs and criminal element… That’s what ruined it,” she says.

She’s concerned she won’t be able to afford marijuana produced by large operations.

When the Observer asked Health Canada about the proposed change to allow only large growers, a return email stated that the previous system was open to abuse.

“The risks of diversion to the illegal market will be significantly reduced,” it stated, adding that mould and electrical hazards would also decrease.

It emphasized that Health Canada doesn’t support marijuana as medicine.

“Marijuana has not gone through the scientific and safety review process required for pharmaceutical drugs. Smoking marijuana has not been approved or endorsed by Health Canada as a medical treatment.”


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