For affidavit and other info see: http://johnconroy.com/mmar.htm
Also available at Cannabis in Canada
Ritchot: A Portrait of a Bureaucrat
Jeannine Ritchot was the Director of Medical Marijuana Regulatory Reform and the top bureaucrat in charge of the transition from the MMAR to the MMPR. Currently, Miss Ritchot is Senior Director, Surveillance and Epidemiology Division at Public Health Agency of Canada. But it's her previous title that she is here to account for. She speaks for Health Canada. On day three in week two of Allard, Jeannine was cross-examined by Mr. John Conroy.
In March of 2010, Ritchot began work in the Health Canada office that administrated the MMAR.
Her office was responsible for tobacco issues, so she had a general familiarity with tobacco regulations. But she was not aware that one can grow tobacco, to use Conroy's words “on their own land” for personal consumption. September 30 2013 was the transition date to the MMPR when Health Canada stopped accepting applications. By this date, many patients were in debt to Health Canada. In her mind, the MMAR had been a complete failure. The debts to Prairie Plant Systems were over a million dollars. A Supreme Court order made regulation of a controlled substance difficult to regulate. Under the MMAR, Health Canada went far beyond its role as a regulator.
John touched upon this persistence for Health Canada to say “dried marijuana” instead of cannabis. In the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act it's listed as cannabis. Apparently, for all the years Ritchot was Director, it was pretty regular to refer to cannabis “dried marijuana.” What about tea?, asked Conroy. Cannabis tea. Cannabis tea with butter. Cannabis that has been extracted from the dried bud. You following? After a period of silence, Ritchot admitted that concerns related to cannabis oil and extractions were not made clear to her when constructing the MMPR.
According to Ritchot, technically the MMAR didn't authorize anything but dried marijuana either. But, seeing that the cannabis product could not be sold on a market, extractions for personal consumption was not an issue. Thank you Mr. John Conroy. Through his questioning, we learn that under the MMPR, it is assumed that LPs will take over this function and offer extract products that will go through the standard Food and Drugs regulation Health Canada requires of all new food and/or drugs.
Implicit in this regulation is the implication for BC's dispensaries and compassion clubs. Although they showed some initial interest in the MMPR system, most opted out for the legal grey area they already exist in. Mr. Conroy brought up this fact later but what wasn't discussed in courts was the actual free market these compassion clubs and dispensaries exist in. Their lack of regulation inspires entrepreneurship in ways other businesses can't. The argument for cannabis gardens is that people have an incentive not to burn their house down or become a victim of theft, mold or some other disaster. This incentive is built into every human action and where private property is respected, a free society can flourish. If there is any editorial position to take away from Mr. Conroy's grilling of Miss Ritchot, it is the utter idleness of the modern civil servant, who's time, labour and salary have become nothing but a bureaucratic drain on the taxpayer.
The Oxy Model
Conroy compares oxycodone to cannabis and this comparison serves him well. Do oxys have a prescription? Does this prescription have a limit? Ritchot responded that the limit was on the label. But if an oxy patient wanted to go on vacation, he or she could go the pharmacy and buy it. It wouldn't be sent to him on vacation via mail, in other words. John established with Ritchot that if an oxy patient didnd't like the pharmacy, or the pharmacist didn't have enough oxycodone to fill his prescription, the patient could patronize a competitor without having to go back to his doctor for another prescription. This is the oxy-model, as Mr. Conroy calls it. It is nothing like the MMPR.
The MMPR does all of these things. Once registered with an LP, if a patient wishes to patronize a competitor, he or she must go back to the doctor, fill out another prescription and register with a new LP. And this was the so-called “free market.”
The MMPR stipulates that only 150 gram segments of dried marijuana can be shipped to a patient via mail. Oxys aren't shipped from an LP. Oxy patients can just take their medication with them. Mr. Conroy mentioned to Ritchot how she said it was a public safety issue, but then Health Canada had no data. Ritchot shot back that they do receive information. Information from the stakeholders who had the data. Who were these stakeholders? Compassion Clubs, dispensaries, physicians, pharmacists, municipalities, patients, prospective LPs, municipalities and by-law enforcement, police and law enforcement, and the provinces and territories. But could she give John specifics on any robbery attempts during the MMAR's existence? No, she couldn't.
How many patients were robbed during the program? She didn't know. Health Canada did not have that information.
Ritchot's public safety concerns were about residences not properly outfitted for cultivation of cannabis. Her affidavit made no reference to people growing in barns, or other agricultural areas. She agreed that in relation to public safety, she was talking about mostly residential homes. But Health Canada did meet with municipalities about “large operations.”
“What do you mean by “large operations”” Conroy asked
Rotchot answered that some agricultural areas occupied a large industrial building and people were worried about having so many cannabis plants in their community.
So one of the objectives the MMPR, then, was to protect individual health and safety. Conroy asked her if Health Canada was protecting individuals from themselves, but Ritchot refused to “characterize it like that.” She repeated her objective about protecting public health and safety which included the “harms from growing marijuana.” So Conroy pressed again: MMPR keeps individual from harming themselves or keeps people from harming others? She wouldn't define it as an “opposition statement,” but eventually said yes to both answers. Ritchot keeps calling cannabis a narcotic. In designing the MMPR, the idea was not only to protect other Canadians from these mythical harms, but to protect the individual from himself. As if individuals lack common sense and need the all-knowing regulators to save us.
But in designing the MMPR, the idea was to restrict Health Canada's reach and return to their basic role as regulator of markets. Health Canada would no longer be involved in shipping or serving patients directly. Administration of a growing program was putting on financial strain on the department. Prairie Plant Systems were costing the bureaucracy millions and it only produced one strain. The MMPR eliminated the need for individuals to apply to Health Canada. Cannabis was the only drug one had to apply to Health Canada for.
The MMAR had been a failure and now here were the patients suing the federal government over the MMPR. The oxy-codene model serves as a superior model to anything the federal government has done in response to the Supreme Court's 2003 decision. Better yet has the been the BC dispensary model, and the compassion clubs that haven't harmed patients – despite no Health Canada regulation. This is the only model that has fulfilled the Supreme Court's requirement and it wasn't done by a central planning agency. It was the concerted effort of tens of thousands of individuals in a relatively free and fair market.
Ritchot kept pronouncing MMAR as “mar” until the end when she started correcting herself. John asked if Health Canada had any statistics on patients getting sick from producing their own cannabis. She didn't. Health Canada had stats on oder complaints but only since 2011. 4 years and only received 177 complaints. That's 44 a year. Out of 40,000. And Health Canada never sought to find ways to inform patients on how to mask the smell. They instead sent out letters asking the patients to be discrete. Ritchot didn't see oder an issue that demanded Health Canada's authority. They recommended contacting local by-law officers. There was nothing in the regulations that dealt with oder, so in Ritchot's eyes, there was nothing to be done except send letters.
John asked why not set up an expert advisory committee? There was nothing in the regulations preventing them from doing that. There was a committee put together for the doctors, why not for patients and growers? But Ritchot shook her head, “I don't understand.” She didn't have authority to “oblige.” But, John pressed, she could have set up an expert advisory committee?
“Yes,” she said, “but there was no such advisory committee.”
But there was a database. All MMAR participants were in this database. There was even a hotline police could call to get access to this database. The databse kept medical information, such as dosage and plants, but it also stored addresses. Apparently the actual use of this database was limited. Health Canada didn't have any record of any criminal conviction for any patient. Not for possession nor trafficking nor unlawful production during the entire course of MMAR.
“Health Canada is not law enforcement,” Ritchot told the council. So these records “could” exist.
But Conroy had her admit that Health Canada searched the records and nothing came back.
“There were limitations that made it hard to sort from MMAR patients, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.” Ritchot pleaded.
Conroy emphasized that here in front of the court, she had nothing. Same with fire. Health Canada had nothing. But Ritchot still tried to weasel her way out. There was nothing in the regulations about telling Health Canada about a fire, she said. But, as Conroy explained, if one had a fire and needed a new site, they presumably would contact Health Canada and apply for a new site? She didn't want to assume. The only thing she admitted to was that if a patient had a fire, Health Canada didn't know about it.
There were no records of theft even though the MMAR required it. Ergo, there must have been no theft problem. If theft had been reported, Health Canada would have had access to that data.
Ritchot told the council more about this MMAR database. We learned from Eric Hornsby that the database still exists and has frozen in time since the injunction. It was initially set up, according to Ritchot, to set parameters for production and issuing licenses. But the thing was a “resource limitation issue,” from day one. It was “archaic” and went through a few updates during the course of the MMAR. To use it, a user would have to go through each patient record one-by-one to find the issues and problems related to that patient and/or grower. So when John asked about records on toxic chemicals or effects of cannabis cultivation on children, Ritchot had to respond truthfully: “Health Canada doesn't keep records like this, no.”
Same with fire and mold? John asked.
Again she explained, the only requirement under the MMAR is theft of production. Patients are required to report on theft, but there was no obligation to report on the presence of chemicals. The limitations of the computer database did not allow for records like this to be kept.
John then asked about outdoor gardens. Ritchot indicated that cross contamination is always a risk of outdoor and that industrial hemp looks like cannabis. But when John pressed her, she was unable to provide examples or evidence of people stealing industrial hemp thinking it was cannabis, or even people trying to sell hemp off as cannabis. Ritchot also admitted that the specific risks associated with cross-contamination and outdoor crops was outside the expertise of Health Canada. Very few LPs wished to grow outdoors. That was one of the major factors in the “no outdoor” provision of the MMPR. It had little to do with practical matters. It was more about security and control of climate. Quality control was the justification often returned to (apparently MMAR growers don't incentives to produce quality medicine). Very few LPs – if any – showed interest in growing outdoors and so Health Canada regulated it out of existence.
The Problem with the MMPR
Prospective LPs had one of many hands in crafting the MMPR. Although the final scheme was created by Health Canada and managed by Jeannine Ritchot who now had to answer for her incompetence without whistle-blowing her superiors. Over the question of extracts or resin-based medicine, Ritchot fidgeted before finally admitting to insufficient responses regarding extracts. Some physicians wanted extracts available, as did some LPs. But Health Canada decided on dried cannabis bud only. But there was and still is a regulatory process for extracts under the MMPR. Ritchot explained that LPs can produce an extract and submit the product under the food and drug regulatory regimes to go through the standard regulatory process.
In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that patients had a Section 7 right to reasonable access of cannabis. If a doctor prescribed it, then Health Canada and the government must comply. The result was the MMAR where patients could grow themselves or have someone grow for them. The third option was to buy directly from Health Canada. Health Canada contracted this job out to Prairie Plant Systems. Health Canada charged a flat rate of $5 a gram with free shipping. As the program grew and more people tried to sign up, the resource strains on Health Canada intensified. Some medical patients found themselves indebted to Health Canada through the Prairie Plant Systems.
John asked about coverage under provincial insurance schemes for reimbursement. Could patients claim coverage? Ritchot said it was a provincial matter, not in the authority of Health Canada. But consultations with the provinces didn't seem to effect the end result of the MMPR. During the transition period, provinces were concerned that they would have to subsidize medical cannabis or “receive pressures in this regard” from their constituents. Provincial concerns didn't seem to matter to Ritchot or Health Canada.
Nor did affordability seem to matter. Every witness the council has examined has essentially been a “yes-man.” A paper-pusher in a self-serving bureaucracy that produces no wealth and is arguably not worth even a fraction of the tax-money that goes into it. But with Ritchot, there was no one else to blame. Unless she intended to throw Health Minister Rosa Ambrose under the bus, Ritchot is in court to take the fall. But of course, in a democracy one is not entirely responsible for one's actions. Without private property and a private owner to take responsibility, bureaucratic mess-ups like the MMPR will always find a new victim as the prosecutors shuffle their way through the bureaucratic headache that is the federal government. Ms. Ritchot will not go to jail or get fined. She won't even lose her new job, which is now a higher position in the Public Health Agency of Canada, (which itself is a separate body from Health Canada).
Nothing in the MMPR addressed patients who wouldn't be able to afford LPs. Health Canada should have known there would be a significant number ineligible. All Health Canada had to do was look at the PPS numbers. People couldn't afford $5 a gram without going into debt. There was no provincial insurance coverage. Not Health Canada's problem, pretty much. All Ritchot had to say for herself, or rather for Health Canada, was that she didn't want to speculate on the personal finances of the patients indebted to Health Canada. She mentioned that Health Canada considered price regulations in the MMPR, but decided against it. She mentioned how the LPs said they would be looking into compassionate pricing.
“Health Canada decided to establish the conditions of a free market,” said Ritchot and I might have been the only one in the courtroom that felt like screaming. John didn't bother correcting her on misuse of the term “free market” for he used it against her. Health Canada did nothing to ensure that all patients would be covered under the new system. The idea was that they were just cast out to the “free market” to fend for themselves.
Ritchot took issue with that ratiocination. She pointed out that Health Canada does not guarantee 100% coverage for other natural health products. But Conroy hit her hard (figuratively) on that point. Other prescription drugs are covered under insurance schemes. There were no official guidelines or rules on “dried marijuana” it was up to Health Canada. But Health Canada, particularly Ritchot, didn't do anything. Didn't take into account the difference between cannabis and oxycodene. Didn't take into account that cannabis wouldn't be covered under provincial health-care schemes or by insurance companies. Again, Conroy accused Ritchot of leaving cannabis patients “to the free market.”
But she still wouldn't characterize it that way. For Ritchot, it was a pricing issue. Health Canada decided not to regulate the price based on “extensive consultations with prospective LPs” who would be exploring different pricing schemes. But for Conroy, it kept coming back to: Health Canada did nothing to ensure the MMPR would include all patients. It's a constitutional requirement. But Ritchot is adamant: Health Canada considered mandatory compassionate pricing for LPs, but decided against it.
Once more for the court, John confirmed that if a patient was unhappy with their LP, and wanted to patronize a competitor, the patient had to register with a new LP. And that meant going back to the doctor and getting another medical document. So if a patient had authorization for one gram a day, and he goes to an LP and registers but the strain the patient wanted was out, he or she couldn't ask another LP. The patient would have to go back to the doctor and get a new medical document.
“That's right,” said Ritchot, the prescriptions were not transferable.
This is unlike any other prescription, John wanted to clarify. A doctor doesn't tell you to go to a particular pharmacy. If a pharmacy says sorry we're out of oxycodone, you can go to another pharmacy. The patient wouldn't have to return to the doctor for another prescription. So there is a “slight difference” from what Conroy called the oxy model and the dried marijuana model. But Ritchot maintained that the MMPR and the LP registration model was consistent with other narcotic prescription models.
177 complaints out of at least 30,000 patient files and no way to cross-examine the files to find common complaints. John clarified that Ritchot got the complaints about smell, but no effort was made to help patients find a way to mask the smell. Ritchot said that Health Canada did not do those sort of things. They offered talking to by-law officers since smell and other complaints about MMAR gardens were not a Health Canada issue. It's the municipalities, Ritchot reminded the court, that has the authority to enforce the by-laws written on the licenses. “Smell is not a federal issue.”
What was the source of Health Canada's formula? Ritchot said it came from a number of sources. It was a conservative estimate of 30 grams per plant, with a growing cycle of 3 months. Included in the calculations was the idea that most patients would be inexperienced cannabis growers. It's not mentioned if the formula was ever updated to account for this, or if experienced growers were plugged into a different formula.
Health Canada received complaints about large operations, which were an apparent front for illegal grow-ops. But who complained? What evidence was there of their complaints? Ritchot said that she received evidence from police that in these “large operations” were yielding far more than 30 grams per plant. Her evidence that some MMAR gardens were fire hazards and that excess product was used for trafficking came from the RCMP.
But Health Canada didn't have this evidence. Ritchot said Health Canada doesn't collect information of that kind. As for plants yielding more than 30 grams, Conroy blamed the formula. Remo made the court laugh when he gave his testimony that someone who sticks to the 30-gram per plant “must be a really bad grower.” The formula itself was ludicrous. When growing cannabis, some plants are in vegetative states while others are in flower. Some are clones. Did the formula account for any of this?
Ritchot said the number of plants tied into the daily dosage, so higher the dosage the more plants. Therefore, John presented, it was the large number of plants that was of concern to the police. Ritchot agreed and concurred with John that Health Canada could and did look at an option where patients would have fewer plants. Not a problem, thought John, since a grow-box can produce a yield of 600 plants from 6. But Ritchot was not aware of that. What was she aware of?
John asked her, when they discussed capping plants, was any information provided that patients could produce more from less? Ritchot says her information came from police reports. John asked if she and her team looked at other countries with a medical cannabis program.
“Yes we did” Ritchot replied.
But not in those meetings about capping plants?
“I don't recall,” she said.
Ritchot's Constitutional Obligation
As the morning progressed, John pressed harder to not discredit Ritchot as a person, but in her expertise as a competent reformer of the medical marijuana program. Very rare does one get the opportunity to watch a skilled and experienced lawyer lay into a high ranking bureaucrat of the Ottawa Bubble.
“You're not an expert on science of cannabis,” said John
“No, I am not,” replied Ritchot. Her information comes from other people and their reports.
“You knew in your capacity as a director of regulatory reform, you knew the new program had to take into account that it wouldn't put patients into a position where their constitutional rights would be violated.”
That was the style of questioning John posed to Ritchot. “You knew, didn't you?” Repeated over and over. He was a pitbull. Ritchot didn't stand a chance. John demanded that she must have known that a number of patients grew at home because they couldn't afford PPS or black-market prices. The Crown objects as this is now borderline personal knowledge of the MMAR. Ritchot is here representing Health Canada, not herself as a person. But Justice Phelan allows it.
“When designing the program, it was relevant to know her constitutional obligations,” Justice said.
But the Crown persisted: the questions were being posed personally.
So John clarified: “you understood that the program Health Canada was proposing, that medically approved patients had to choose between breaking the law or going without their medicine.”
“Health Canada had to balance the right to access with public health and safety,” said Ritchot.
Conroy wanted clarification on exactly what safety had to do with taking away the patient's ability to grow. Ritchot responded that since cannabis has no official DIN (drug identification number), it was not approved under the regulations.
“But you knew there was no lethal dose of cannabis,” asked John.
“Can you clarify?” Ritchot dodged the question.
John then went over some documents clarifying for her and the court, that one cannot overdose on cannabis.
“You knew that marijuana couldn't kill you?” John asked.
“I don't know, I'm not a toxicologist or pharmacologist. But in this document there is evidence to that effect.”
But John wasn't letting her go. He persisted that “you knew” cannabis couldn't kill people the way other narcotic prescriptions can.
“I don't know enough about narcotics.” She responded.
“You knew there were no reports of death.”
“No, I did not.”
“No reports of people getting sick from cannabis.”
“I'm not sure if that's correct.” Ritchot mentioned a report that she couldn't remember or reference for the court.
“From a safety point of view,” said John, “you didn't realize people that are prescribed narcotics, like opiate-based medicines, are susceptible to dying?”
Ritchot responded that she knew risks were involved, but did not have any extensive knowledge. She was either playing dumb under oath or she was actually that small-minded.
John referenced that one of the problems cited by Health Canada was that “too many” people were getting approved for cannabis by doctors. Federal processing was not keeping up. But John said the sheer number of applicants should show that there must be some efficacy to cannabis.
“I don't infer that,” Ritchot told the court. She mentioned how doctors had expressed concerns about prescribing or supporting a drug that has not gone through the proper regulatory channels and clinical studies.
But John persisted: 38,000 approvals by doctors must mean something. That was a huge increase from the beginning of the program. Health Canada itself projected something like 400,000 by 2025.
“Yes,” said Ritchot, “in the cost-benefit analysis, we predicted that.”
John asked if they looked at the 1972 report on the safety and efficacy of cannabis. Or the 2002 Senate Report. Or any other royal commissions on cannabis since 1894, whether domestic or international studies.
“No, we did not look at them.”
“Did you know about them?”
Was someone at Health Canada supposed to look at this? To determine safety or efficacy? Ritchot said it's not Health Canada's role. If someone is bringing a product to market, they conduct the research. Health Canada approves or disapproves of the information, but it's not their job to provide information bringing a drug to market.
John asked her about the Parker case. That the Parker case required the government to come up with a constitutional exception for access to medical marijuana. That it was a constitutional obligation?
“Yes,” Ritchot responded.
So when striking the balance between reasonable access and the other issues Health Canada addressed, neither Ritchot nor anyone in her department looked at the history of cannabis studies, including Royal Commissions from Canada. Nobody looked at the history to determine safety and efficacy.
Ritchot replied that it was the finding of the Supreme Court that required medical cannabis. Health Canada had to provide access despite the substance not fitting into the convention regulatory frameworks. Hence the MMAR.
“But you didn't go back and look at the evidence,” pressed Conroy.
“It's not Health Canada's job to determine safety and efficacy of a drug,” replied Ritchot. Falling back on the default position that the drug company does the testing for safety and efficacy; that all Health Canada does is verify.
When coming up with the MMPR, a lot of information seemed to come from the RCMP. Ritchot and her office obviously didn't consult the literature. Not even the 2002 Senate Report. Where health-care professionals describe a typical joint consisting of .5 to 1 gram of cannabis plant matter, the information from the RCMP establish one gram as equal to 3 to 5 joints. Quite a difference.
Ritchot seemed pretty clueless on the most basic aspects of cannabis. Like oral consumption versus inhalation. She wouldn't comment due to lack of knowledge. Since there was no product monograph for cannabis, Health Canada created an expert advisory committee to help inform doctors. But as Conroy mentioned, Health Canada did not do the same for patients and/or growers.
John suggested that problems with residential growing could be fixed if patients got together and made a communal garden. But Ritchot disagreed. One of the reasons for MMPR was to allow the product to be grown in a quality-control environment. There were risks with a communal garden, or the single residential dwelling, according to Ritchot.
But, as John brought up, people can make natural health products without federal regulatory quality control. People can grow food as well without some sort of regulatory process. As long as it's not for commercial sale, and for personal consumption. One can even grow their own tobacco and smoke it.
“Food is not a controlled substance,” Ritchot told the court.
“But food could become dangerous,” said John.
But Ritchot maintained that since cannabis is a controlled substance, it is therefore different and should not be treated like food or another natural health product.
John showed how Health Canada's documents don't mention that. It's all about overcrowding one's house with plants. Someone could do that with food plants and make their house dangerous.
“I suppose,” she answered.
So Health Canada basically took the position, John presented to Ritchot, that patients couldn't grow for themselves, anywhere at anytime, ever. She agreed. Cannabis cultivation and sale should be a regulated commercial market. Health Canada took the position that there should be no homegrown cannabis for a variety of reasons. In addition, the MMAR had been amended numerous times during its existence. This constant piecemeal approach wasn't working, it lacked “teeth” according to Ritchot. A major overhaul was needed.
And perhaps that's true. The MMAR wasn't perfect. But as John told Richot, “there were other options.” And Ritchot agreed, Health Canada looked at numerous options before the MMPR. But then why, John pressed, if Health Canada knew there were people who couldn't afford the current $5 a gram from Prairie Plant System, then affordability was going to remain a problem in the MMPR.
“We knew there were concerns,” said Ritchot.
“People could produce much cheaper,” said Conroy, referring to home gardens.
“Yes, but there were risk.”
“You knew of people who couldn't afford. So they'd have to continue to produce unlawfully or go without.”
“We knew the LPs that wanted to compassionate pricing,” Ritchot replied
But John had gotten her: “But you didn't know the details.” It didn't matter what the LPs were planning on doing. The fact is as the MMPR was being designed and even after it was announced, affordability remained a problem. A problem that didn't seem like much of a concern for Miss Ritchot or her reform team at Health Canada.
Fire, Mold and Organized Crime in the MMAR
There are no Health Canada records of fire, mold or organized crime. In the MMAR, Health Canada had the authority to inspect gardens. As well as in the regulations, growers were bound by all the local bylaws just as anyone else doing construction or electrical work in their homes.
There was once a hotline someone could call for information on MMAR growers. Only a number of people had access to the database and it was maintained by Ritchot and her staff. It's purpose was to track applications. Addresses were recorded because Health Canada needed to know. But John insisted that Health Canada needed to know in case the police needed to know. But she disagreed. Health Canada needed to know because they were authorizing a controlled substance and needed to know the address of the patient and/or grower. But Conroy was persistent: the only benefit to knowing the address was for the police. But Ritchot said the addresses were needed for inspections.
The primary purpose was for the police, Conroy insisted. But Ritchot wouldn't agree. She said it was for administration regulation. Like when the police call to ask? Asked Conroy. She said there were more inquires than police, but John said only the addresses could be shared with police.
“Correct,” said Ritchot.
“It benefited police,” said John
No, replied Ritchot, it was for Health Canada's benefit because it helps the police and that helps Health Canada.
John had exhausted her. By the afternoon she was a lame duck lined up for slaughter. Throughout the examination, John was persistent in alluding to Miss Rotchet that could reformed the medical cannabis program in such a way to keep home gardens. For example, the MMAR could have been amended so that police would be aware of production sites. But there were privacy issues, according to Ritchot. But John dismissed those issues as excuses, that these issues could have been solved on a confidential basis. And about exposing the MMAR addresses via mail? Ritchot was gone by then, so she didn't have an answer.
Health Canada and the RCMP were not opposed to working with each other. There were also municipal by-laws and inspections that MMAR growers are subject to. But there were safety issues. Too many plants.
“A change in the formula could have helped,” said John
“Yes,” replied Ritchot, helped with oder or the public safety issue of having too many plants. But not the other regulatory issues.
John started going through her letters and memos. There were no numbers or stats to support her assertions. No evidence that cannabis gardens are “24 times more likely” to catch fire than normal gardens. Her staff did no calculations to support that assertion. Her staff didn't do much research at all. Almost nothing. They are bureaucrats.
Health Canada looked to the RCMP for most of its information. Not to past commissions, or other countries (or the legal American states). Health Canada was aware of compassion clubs and dispensaries, especially in British Columbia, and they were part of the consultation process, but their role wasn't understood in a broader since. John asked if taking away the option to grow would effect that BC market.
Ritchot didn't understand. They were “operating outside the scope of the law;” the idea wasn't entertained. Compassion clubs and dispensaries were welcomed to join the MMPR system provided they passed Health Canada's regulatory requirements. And that was the crux of the problem, yet it went unannounced. BC compassion clubs and dispensaries are self-regulated medical market; their goal is to fulfill Section 7's reasonable access to medicine. What is more reasonable then consumer sovereignty in a free market?
Ritchot on MMPR: The Government Told Me To Do It
The goal of the MMPR, according to Ritchot, was to treat cannabis like any other prescription narcotic. But John already compared the “dried marijuana” model to the oxycodene model. Ritchot did end up admitting to her job being to implement the orders from above. As in, the government said they wanted to overhaul the medical cannabis program and it was Ritchot's job to put together a team and make it happen.
But, John presented, whereas drugs are usually in a pill or capsule form, cannabis is a plant. “A person could produce it for themselves cheaply where you can't reasonable do that with other types of drugs.”
Ritchot retains that it would not be easy.
But there is a significant difference between cannabis and other drugs, Conroy persisted.
“Yes, less chemistry involved,” replied Ritchot.
John also had Ritchot admit that she wasn't using the term “narcotic” in a scientific sense. All throughout the day, Miss Ritchot had been referring to cannabis as a “narcotic.”
“This is a medicine people can produce for themselves reasonably easily, unlike those other drugs?”
John posed this question twice after Ritchot dodged the answer the first time.
But she had to admit, “Yes, that's correct.”
John asked, what about if someone grew medical marijuana and put it in their tea and added milk or cream, would that be permissible under the MMPR? Ritchot reiterated that only dried marijuana is allowed. There are no recommendations on how that should be consumed.
“No restrictions,” was what she said.
There was nothing in the regulations that restricts how to consume dried cannabis for personal use. John walked her through extracting the medicine from dried cannabis into butter and tea. “That's something other dried marijuana,” he said. But by now Ritchot was not concerned. She had been in court all day. Personal extracts were not Health Canada's problem. There was and technically still is no official recommendation on how to consume dried marijuana.
In planning and transitioning to the MMPR, Ritchot admitted to the court that yes, Health Canada received concerns from patients over losing their personal autonomy over the production of their medicine, cost, therapeutic benefit in terms of growing, losing investment on capital goods and lack of (or really, any) reimbursement. Also privacy was an issue, with most patients uncomfortable with their medical information going to LPs and being shipped to their home address.
Ritchot wasn't concerned about those issues. She worried more about the failures of the MMAR than the potential disasters of the MMPR. She cited the MMAR's “exponential growth” as a problem. It was putting a strain on the department's resources. So John pressed her, other regulators weren't concerned about privately grown food or natural health products. Only commercial sales. So why rule out home gardens in the MMPR?
Ritchot said Health Canada was concerned that if cannabis was going to be used as a medicine, they knew best as far as quality control went. Since it's a controlled substance, it's not comparable to other natural health products. But John stopped her. A controlled substance has nothing to do with health or the actual chemistry and biology of the plant. It's just a label. It doesn't effect how one grows it. John expressed that most people can produce food for themselves. People have an incentive not to harm themselves.
“That's probably true,” replied Ritchot.
But she kept coming back to the quality control that is implicit in a regulated regime. So John asked her about LP pesticides, mold and the recalls. Ritchot replied that she has since left Health Canada. She didn't have any updated information on LPs or the MMPR. She saw one article in a newspaper about an LP recall. That's it.
John wanted to know more about the consultations with the stakeholders that led to the scrapping of the MMAR for the MMPR. Lots of people were involved: health-care practitioners, municipalities, law enforcement, fire-fighters, the provinces and territories. As well as feedback from the prospective industry. In these consultations, nearly everyone brought up affordability as an issue. Especially the prospective LPs. But Health Canada went ahead with the program anyway.
Ritchot mentioned LP compassionate pricing, but admitted to having no idea on how well that's working out. Nor would she comment on the financial situation of individuals who couldn't afford even compassionate pricing.
Isn't That Right?
By mid-afternoon it was clean-up time. Kirk passed some notes to John and the questions resumed. If an MMAR garden was constructed taking into account all the issues Miss Ritchot has, including being approved by local and provincial authorities (as they always were), then would she have a problem with home gardens? Apparently yes, even if the site was properly constructed. Her issue was that residents didn't know these sites were in their community. Plus, there were lots more factors like quality control.
But if they were properly constructed, said John, all the problems popping up in the community and with quality control should disappear?
Ritchot disagreed. There are more problems than just proper construction. Like the mere existence of cannabis, perhaps? That did sound like the path she was going down. Apparently, the mere existence of a cannabis garden in a community is a problem.
By now John was ending almost every sentence with, “isn't that right?” Catching Ritchot in the crushing fallacies of her own logic.
John asked, “how many times did the Ministry revoke licenses?”
“I don't know,” Ritchot answered.
John picked away again at the database. Health Canada could have done so much more to improve the database as it pertained to all MMAR gardens and patients across Canada. But they didn't. They scrapped the program instead. They implemented a new program without looking at the historical role of cannabis, as a plant and a medicine. They didn't consider demonstrating the efficacy and safety of cannabis to be their job. And they also didn't have any information on patients like Neil Allard overproducing, causing oder, getting robbed, having fires or that the cannabis or cannabis extracts he produced were unsafe.
Miss Ritchot agreed to all of this.
“The same is true for Miss Beemish”
“Yes,” replied Ritchot.
Getting rid of home gardens were based on complaints. As John showed and had Ritchot admit, these complaints were simply what other people said. They were opinions. Health Canada didn't even verify all of them.
Miss Ritchot and Health Canada had and still has no foundational basis to get rid of medical cannabis gardens. Ritchot was and still is an overpaid bureaucrat who takes orders from above. There is no doubt that the MMPR has Harper's ideology written all over it. The position of federal government has been undeniably anti-cannabis; that is why John told spectators outside the courthouse on day 1 to “vote Liberal” as to end this silly feud with medical cannabis patients.
But voting isn't enough. Allard sets the precedent for legalization. When John asked Ritchot about the implications for the BC Bud market if home gardening were scrapped, she replied that they operated in a legal gray area and had nothing to do with the MMAR. This might have been her understanding, but compassion clubs and dispensaries would beg to differ. The sharing of cannabis among patients has already been established by prior witnesses. It is exactly this unregulated market among growers and patients that had to go. That's exactly why “voting Liberal” won't do much other than legalize the consumer product. This fight is about plants, not doobies. The right to grow keeps the supply chain in the hands of the entrepreneur. It has the been the entrepreneurs of the MMAR – like Remo – who have served themselves or others with reasonable access. And it's not just in British Columbia, but all of Canada.