Medical marijuana patients say market must remain distinct from recreational

VANCOUVER – Diana Koch never wanted to numb her pain and anxiety with opioids. After seeing family members struggle with addiction, she felt pharmaceuticals were not an option.

Medical marijuana freed the 36-year-old from her troubling symptoms. But with recreational weed legalization looming, she worries about her portion of the market being swallowed up.

“People who are using it for medical purposes, they actually are suffering from something, from a condition that’s handicapping them in some way in their life,” she said, speaking from her home in Toronto.

“The recreational users are not,” she added. “There is a difference.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government plans to legalize recreational pot later this year, but medical users have been eligible to access cannabis since 2001. Patients can mail order from a licensed producer, grow their own or use a designated grower.

The government’s proposal to impose an $1-per-gram excise tax on medical marijuana, equivalent to that of recreational weed, has left many patients fuming. Koch said the plan will drive patients to opioids or the black market.

“It basically puts medical cannabis into the same category as alcohol and cigarettes,” she said.

Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister and lead on the legal pot program, has said the government doesn’t want taxation levels to be an incentive for people to use the medical system inappropriately.

The excise tax adds “insult to injury,” as cannabis patients are subject to federal sales tax, unlike prescription medicines, said Jonathan Zaid, founder of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana.

Legalization is likely to open up more channels for medical pot research, as studies have been hobbled by the illegal status of marijuana, he said. But he’s still calling on the government to fund research, given the limited patentability of weed.

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