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Health Canada mistakenly outs 40,000 medical marijuana users across country

By John Miner, The London Free Press

Medical marijuana users across Canada received this envelope from Health Canada, identifying it was sent by the medical marijuana program. Health Canada has confirmed 40,000 other letters were sent this week in error.
Medical marijuana users across Canada received this envelope from Health Canada, identifying it was sent by the medical marijuana program. Health Canada has confirmed 40,000 other letters were sent this week in error.

It was a secret Joanne didn’t want carelessly shared with neighbours, or anyone else in her small Southwestern Ontario community.

The 56-year-old medical marijuana grower and patient was stunned when she received an envelope in the mail from Health Canada addressed to her and, visible for all to see in the return address field, the printing: “Marihuana Medical Access Program.”

“I cried at my mailbox when I saw that, it was so upsetting,” said the woman, who did not want her last name used. “I have never been so embarrassed. I was in a panic,” she told The Free Press.

Effectively outed by the envelope as a medicinal marijuana user, it turns out Joanne isn’t alone: 40,000 Canadians received informational letters on upcoming changes to the government’s marijuana medical access program, Health Canada confirmed.

An administrative error resulted in the envelopes being labelled to indicate they were sent by the medical marijuana program, deputy health minister George Da Pont said in a statement Thursday.

“This is not standard Health Canada practice. On behalf of Health Canada, I deeply regret this administrative error. Health Canada is taking steps to ensure this does not happen again,” he said in the statement.

“Protection of personal information is of fundamental importance to Health Canada. We are in discussion with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.”

A spokesperson for the commissioner’s office, the watchdog over government handling of sensitive and personal information, said it wasn’t notified by Health Canada.

“We were made aware of it by a number of concerned individuals who contacted our office. We have since received complaints and we will be investigating this matter,” the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.

“We have been in touch with Health Canada and are currently gathering further information.”

Living in a community where everybody knows each other, Joanne said she’s concerned someone who saw the envelope at the small post office could talk about it to others. That could make her and her husband a target for thieves looking for pot and a subject of public ridicule.

“It would just take one person that would say, ‘Hey, let’s go check that out,’ “ she said.

She said she knows of another medical marijuana patient ridiculed by a local civic politician when it became known he was taking marijuana for cancer.

“Stigmatization exists,” she said.

Since receiving the shocking envelope this week, Joanne has learned others in the medical program received the same identifying mail.

The letter inside contained information on changes being made to the program by the government in the spring.

Previous Health Canada letters about the program never identified the mail was from the marijuana access program. It simply said Health Canada.

“Anytime we have ever gotten correspondence in the past, it has said from Health Canada. No one really knew what the package was. It kept our identity safe,” she said.

“They used to be discrete. I believe with the program ending, they don’t really care anymore. They put us up as a target,” she said.

Joanne said she’s complained to her MP and sent a written complaint to Health Canada.

She said she signed up for the program, which allows controlled use of marijuana to help ease pain, after suffering severe arthritis for decades.

“I have had tonnes of surgeries,” she said. But in the end, doctors could only offer painkillers.

Joanne wanted to avoid taking opioid drugs for her constant pain and learned marijuana oil might be an option. It took years, but eventually she was approved to legally grow and take marijuana. She’s been a grower for two years.

She extracts the oil from the marijuana bud, puts it in a capsule and takes one each night.

“The first night I took the oil I was out of pain, I slept through the night. I hadn’t slept for probably 20 years without waking up in pain. This is an amazing medicine,” she said.

The government is overhauling the system for medical marijuana, moving from patient-grown pot to having it grown by large commercial producers.

— — —


  • Launched in 2001, grew from under 500 authorized persons to more than 30,000 in 2013.
  • Allowed approved patients to grow pot at home or buy from the government.
  • Amid concerns system was open to abuse, government decided to overhaul it.
  • Under new rules, personal production in homes will be eliminated March 31, 2014.


 ARTICLE SOURCE: Stratford Beacon Herald

+ Cover image: Ottawa Citizen

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