Health Canada's contract producer for medicinal marijuana fears patient safety and product quality will suffer as a result of a federal court ruling that relaxes government restrictions and allows other growers to become suppliers."There's all kinds of security risks. Hopefully, common sense and logic prevails sooner rather than later, for the sake of the patients," said Brent Zettl, president of Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), a Saskatoon-based company that produces medical marijuana in a former mine chamber 365 metres below the surface of the earth in Flin Flon, Man.
A federal court ruling released Thursday by Judge Barry Strayer struck down a key restriction in Ottawa's program, which allowed medical users to grow their own pot but prohibited them from supplying the drug to more than one other user at a time.
Lawyers for medical users argued that restriction effectively established Health Canada as the country's sole legal provider of medical marijuana.
They also said the restriction was unfair, and that it prevented seriously ill Canadians from obtaining the drug they needed to treat their debilitating illnesses.
They complained the drug provided by the government was substandard and didn't meet the needs of many patients who use it to treat chronic ailments.
Ron Marzel, a Toronto lawyer representing the group of medical users expects this week to receive the Crown's notice of appeal against Strayer's ruling. "Why would they do that? What reason do they have?" said Debbie Palm, a grower in Nipawin who uses the medicinal plant to treat her epilepsy. "If the government appeals, it is basically declaring war on the sick of this country."
Zettl sees it as exactly the opposite. By maintaining tight control, the government is protecting those individuals, he says his product goes through 100 tests before being shipped out to patients, however, Palm said she is in control of the entire process -- her plants are entirely organic -- whereas she has no idea if PPS uses chemical fertilizers and bug sprays,
"I control the quality and safety of my product and if I supplied someone else, they would also know exactly what they were getting," she said. "I don't understand what everyone is afraid of."
Palm and her husband, Joe, have a friend who refused to pay for a shipment from PPS and sent it back. The product was black and powdery and "just horrible," Joe said, adding PPS has a reputation for inferior quality. Palm thinks PPS is worried about losing its monopoly to competition but Zettl denies the company has any concerns about a slowdown in production.