SOUTH SURREY — “The 24th of November, 2009. It’s a date that’s burned into my conscious.”
It was on that overcast Tuesday that David Hutchinson of South Surrey learned his eldest daughter, Beth – then a 16-year-old Harry Potter-loving free spirit – had cancer.
“Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and died here in Peace Arch Hospital in December, 2009,” he said. “Two weeks before her mother died – the very same day her mother went into palliative care – Beth was diagnosed with a brain tumour.”
Beth was given a life expectancy of eight to 14 months, which was prolonged by numerous rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and five brain surgeries. But it wasn’t until about 18 months after her diagnosis that her father found something else that could treat her tumour: cannabis.
Doctors narrowed down her type of tumour to glioma, a tumour that arises from glial cells in the brain. While researching glioma, Hutchinson came across an article touting the benefits of THC – the chemical in marijuana that stimulates brain cells to release dopamine – on tumours.
“I thought, I’m being crazy. Cannabis for a brain tumour?” he recalled.
Admittedly, Hutchinson comes from a very “vanilla” background, having spent 23 years in the British military before retiring as a squadron leader.
“I had no association with drugs because that’s the way it is,” he said. “But this is not quack medicine, this is mainstream.”
The more he researched, the more he found out the positive effects of cannabis for curative purposes, including that it causes the cancer to eat itself while cutting off bloodflow to the tumour. He presented his findings to his daughter’s neuro-oncologist and Beth was prescribed medical marijuana, though it took six months for Health Canada to issue her licence.
Beth received an average licence for 10 grams a day, but her father didn’t want to grow the allotted 49 plants in their home, so he sought to find a supplier.
“I phoned Health Canada and said, ‘Can you recommend someone who can grow for me?’ They said, ‘You have to go and find your own,’” he recounted. “I said, ‘Where do I go to find someone to grow marijuana for me?’ The guy said, ‘I’m not allowed to comment on that.’”
Eventually, Hutchinson found someone through a network of friends who agreed to grow Beth’s medical marijuana for them. He currently pays a rate of a dollar per gram, though he expects the cost to increase dramatically once new federal legislation takes effect in the spring.
“As of the first of April next year, everything that we have we’re supposed to destroy,” he said. “We then have to buy through one of the approved, licensed producers.”
Beginning April 1, 2014, the federal government’s Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) will replace previous legislation that allowed medicinal marijuana users to grow their own plants. Hutchinson will no longer be able to get medicinal marijuana from his daughter’s current supplier, and he expects commercial prices to skyrocket.
“I think having lots of large, licensed producers is a good idea, but I think taking away people’s ability to grow themselves or having smaller ones is wrong,” he said, adding that medicinal marijuana users should still be able to grow their own stash the same way anyone can homebrew beer or wine for personal consumption.
Canada has more than 40,000 medicinal marijuana users, and Health Canada has estimated that there will be 50,000 by the time the new legislation starts on April 1.
To date, only two licences have been issued by Health Canada for commercial production of marijuana under the MMPR legislation: one to Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), the sole supplier of medical cannabis to Health Canada for the last 13 years; and the other to CanniMed, a subsidiary of PPS.
“They’ve said their product will be between nine and 12 bucks a gram,” said Hutchinson. “I’m looking at a nine- or a 12-fold increase.”
Because of such a sharp increase in pricing, Hutchinson said medicinal users are likely to purchase less expensive marijuana from illegal grow operations.
“The prohibition is supporting the black market, but they don’t seem to understand that,” he said.
Compared to his current rate of about $3,650 per year, Hutchinson will have to pay $32,850 to $43,800 for the same amount of medicinal marijuana that his daughter currently uses. While he’s heard of commercial operations that are looking to grow and sell marijuana for between four and six dollars per gram, he said they are still seeking approval.
Throughout Beth’s nearly four-year struggle, Hutchinson has been upfront with his family about her treatment, saying he’ll do what it takes to get her medicine – whether legally or illegally.
“I said, ‘I’ll be honest, if I have to break the law to do what I have to do to try and keep my family alive – I’ll do what I’ve got to do.’ If you wouldn’t do it for your own family, who would you do it for?
“She’s still my daughter and I love her.”
© Copyright 2013