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Medical marijuana users win court-ordered reprieve

Authorized home growing by medical marijuana users can continue past April 1 after an injunction was granted Friday by a Federal Court judge. - Black Press file photo
Authorized home growing by medical marijuana users can continue past April 1 after an injunction was granted Friday by a Federal Court judge.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Medical marijuana users have won a last-minute court reprieve that allows them to keep growing their own pot at home instead of destroying it and turning to new federally licenced commercial suppliers.

Federal Court Judge Michael Manson granted a temporary injunction Friday for those with a personal production licence to continue to grow medical marijuana, pending the outcome of a constitutional challenge still to be heard.

Health Canada's new regulation outlawing personal growing had been slated to take effect April 1, but the decision throws a wrench into the Conservative government's pot reform plans.

Medical marijuana users and their supporters are jubilant.

"I'm very excited," said Sandra Colasanti, a member of a coalition seeking to repeal the new rules who said she doesn't use pot but her husband needs it.

"I've seen a lot of people who have everything from MS to cancer to full-blown AIDS and I've seen people die if they don't have access to this."

She said she's optimistic the action launched by Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy will succeed when it goes to trial. No date has been set but it's expected sometime this year.

The federal government cited widespread problems with the current system of permitted medical marijuana users growing pot at home or having other designated growers do it for them.

Colasanti said the coalition doesn't deny there are problems with the old system, which cities say create fire risks and other safety hazards from mould to home invasions.

Health Canada could have prevented such problems had it simply conducted regular inspections of permitted medical grows, she said.

"Whose idea was it to have this important a program and not have mandatory inspections?" Colasanti asked. "The coalition is not saying there shouldn't be some rules. We want rules. We have asked for rules."

Medical pot patients behind the court action feared they'll pay commercial producers much more than it cost to grow themselves and end up with less access to the cannabis strains that work best for them.

The injunction doesn't stop the launch of new commercial pot producers, but it throws into doubt how large their market will be if many users don't have to immediately switch to them for their supply.

Growers licensed under the old system had been ordered by Ottawa to give written notice by April 30 that they'd halted production and destroyed all leftover pot or face potential police enforcement.

Some municipalities had been poised to send in inspection teams or police to root out the legal medical grow-ops they were aware of come April.

But Surrey's fire department is now shelving its plans to step in to remediate an estimated 309 buildings with medical marijuana grows within the city.

"I'm disappointed," said Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis. "I guess we just simply wait."

Garis said it's troubling from a public safety point of view, referring to academic studies that show the grow operations are 24 times more likely to  burn than a regular home.

– with files from Kevin Diakiw

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