Errors, delays irritate licensed pot user

N.S. woman: Missed shipments left her without pain relief

Source: The Chronicle Herald (Nova Scotia)

Copyright: The Halifax Herald Limited

Contact: [email protected]


By: Clare Mellor, Staff Reporter

Published: September 29, 2010

Playing by the rules has caused Dominika Somerton nothing but pain.

The Falmouth, Hants County, woman, who is prescribed medical marijuana for the pain caused by multiple sclerosis, says government red tape has made it impossible to get the drug when she needs it.

"I’m tired of it. . . . I may as well be dealing with dealers," said Somerton, who is still waiting for a shipment of medical marijuana she ordered from Health Canada on Sept. 11.

"I’m not doing it to get high. I’m doing it to manage the pain."

Federal regulations came into effect in 2001 allowing seriously ill people to apply for a licence from Health Canada to use marijuana for medical purposes as prescribed by a physician.

A system is also in place in which those with licences can buy dried marijuana or marijuana seeds through Health Canada.

In September 2009, Somerton received a Health Canada licence to use marijuana as prescribed by her physician.

A secretary on long-term disability, Somerton orders a one-month supply of her prescription from Health Canada because that is all she can afford.

She had no problems receiving the first three shipments. Following that, Somerton said she has run into one problem after another.

"Oftentimes, I have gone two weeks without having any medicinal marijuana, or it was lost in the shipping, or they have no idea where it is right now.

"I never know if I am going to be waiting for another two weeks or if I am going to get it in three days," she said in a recent interview. "I have no idea, and when I call somebody, they can’t tell you."

After making a number of email inquires to Health Canada about the latest shipment delay, she received a reply saying her annual licence to possess the drug expired Sept. 23.

However, Somerton, said her physician has twice faxed the necessary paperwork to Health Canada to renew her licence.

"That was over seven weeks ago, but nobody (at Health Canada) can tell me if the paperwork has been received," said Somerton.

"They don’t know if they can find it."

Citing privacy reasons, Ashley Lemire, a Health Canada spokeswoman, said she can’t comment on Somerton’s case.

Lemire did say there is a delay in issuing licences for medical marijuana use because of a backlog caused by the growth in demand for licences.

At the time of this writing, she couldn’t say how long applicants are waiting for their applications to be processed.

As of August of this year, 4,903 Canadians held a licence to possess marijuana for medical purposes, compared with 2,888 in August 2008, according to government statistics.

Lemire, who is based in Ottawa, said she is not aware of any delays in supplying marijuana to licensed clients.

"Health Canada strives to ensure that all clients receive their monthly supply of marijuana for medical purposes without interruption," Lemire said by email

"Health Canada is not experiencing delays in the supply of marijuana for medical purposes."

Those licensed to use marijuana can also apply for a personal-use production licence to grow the marijuana themselves or a designate licence for someone to cultivate it for them, said Lemire.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008, Somerton said she cannot even roll marijuana herself because of her symptoms and has to smoke it through a pipe. It is the only drug that alleviates her pain without intolerable side-effects, she said.

"The whole right side of body is like a dead weight. It is like being paralyzed. When I smoke weed, it allows me to feel my arm and I can actually have sensation in it. I can move my arm freely."

As of late 2009, those who order marijuana from Health Canada have to prepay for it. That new policy was put in place "as Health Canada continued to incur a significant amount of debt as a result of the accounts in arrears of some authorized persons," Lemire said.

When something is prepaid for, an even larger obligation exists to make certain the client receives it promptly, said Somerton, who has emailed her concerns to Premier Darrell Dexter and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"It is too frustrating. It is too much."

‘I’m tired of it. . . . I may as well be dealing with dealers.’

Medical marijuana user