People with disabilities have to 'navigate a river'

Jason Byrnes, a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces, will still have his expenses covered come April 1 when federal regulations preclude Health Canada from distributing marijuana for medical purposes.

The 39-year-old Courtenay resident takes medicinal marijuana to ease chronic back pain, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), resulting from his time in the military. He is covered through Veterans Affairs and Blue Cross.

"The stuff is great," said Byrnes, a married man who cannot hold down a job but is able to work around the house. "I can only talk about my experiences; I can't talk for others. But for me, it's been basically a lifesaver."

Byrnes is signed up with the Peace Naturals Project in Ontario. He orders medicine by e-mail or phone. Previously, he would rack up his VISA to obtain a monthly supply of medicine to cope with daily challenges.

"The river you have to navigate after you retire when it comes to your medical pension and disability is just crazy. It's getting streamlined for those who can afford the new prices. Good for some, bad for others."

While new regulations work out well for him, Byrnes notes the ratio for people who grow marijuana at home is pennies compared to the dollars they now face.

Authorizations to possess and personal-use production licences expire March 31 when the Marijuana Medical Access Program ends. As of April 1, the only legal access to medicinal marijuana will be through licensed producers.

Sensible B.C., which staged a rally last month in Victoria, says tens of thousands of Canadians depend on medical marijuana every day. The pot activist group claims changes to the program will price many patients out of the market, forcing people to either suffer or turn to the black market for medicine.

"Especially people who can only afford $10, $20, $40 at a time. Just trying to rub a few bucks together to get their medicine," said local activist Ernie Yacub.

Byrnes said the new regulations could lead to healthy competition amongst companies that attain the licences, thereby bringing down the consumer price.

"Hopefully there's some long-term positive things that could come out of this," he said.

Vancouver lawyer John Conroy has issued a constitutional challenge to the new program. A March 18 injunction has been scheduled.

"The court may rule in our favour and enable people to keep their gardens," Yacub said.


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