Canada’s Medical Marijuana Program Puts Economics Above Compassionate Care


As a freelance journalist based in Berlin, I regularly have to travel to internationally for my work. As a cannabis patient with a daily prescription of 300mg THC, taking my medicine inside the EU has always depended on the official in charge of border control. My Canadian or Dutch flowers from the local pharmacy were just as legal in the Netherlands, Italy or Czech Republic as in Germany, but cannabis was still an illegal substance mentioned in Appendix 1 of the Narcotic Drugs Act in my home until March 2017. Any substance mentioned in that Appendix is not trafficable, but some state health authorities were emphatic and gave out permissions to carry medical cannabis in the EU states. Patients could buy cannabis with a special authorisation, a so called federal exemption on medical cannabis, until one month ago.

Since the law amendment in early March, medical cannabis was rescheduled and added to Appendix 3, making medical flowers a “trafficable anesthetic” just like legal opioids or amphetamine-derivatives like Methylphenidate (Ritalin). Some local health authorities had provided cannabis patients a “certificate for the carrying of narcotics under medical treatment based on Article 75 of the Schengen Convention,” even before the recent rescheduling.

Traveling with Medical Cannabis in the EU is not a big problem

Since March, cannabis from the pharmacy may be carried along within the EU if the patient has a valid prescription and has obtained the aforementioned document from the qualified state health department. Equipped with such a paper, a patient may carry a four-week dose of cannabis. For me, this is 18.48 grams of THC, which equals exactly 84 grams of Bedrocan (Netherlands-sourced) or Pedanios 22/1 (Canada-sourced) buds purchased in my local pharmacy. In order to simplify the whole item within the EU, I need only one document which allows me to export any prescribed narcotics from Germany as well as import into other EU countries.

Economic interests outweigh compassionate care

If I want to take my medical cannabis into a non-EU country, I have to apply for the export using this form in Germany. At the same time, I have to get an import license from the country I will be visiting for work. Of course, exporting cannabis can only be legal if both involved countries have a federal medical cannabis program, as entry formalities are controlled by federal authorities worldwide. Jamaica, for example, has no problem with imported medical as long as one carries the right documents. Other patients could even take their medicinal cannabis from the Netherlands to Thailand.

Because  I have to travel to Canada and the USA for work, I expected it to be possible to take my medicine from Germany to Canada, but not to the US. After all, I regularly buy medicine produced in Canada and would only take the legal herbs back to where they were cultivated and sold to Germany with the blessing of Health Canada. So I wrote an email to Health Canada:

Dear Mr. XXX,

My name is Michael Knodt, I am a journalist from Germany. I plan a business trip to Canada next autumn. In compliance with the German federal law I receive medical cannabis from Netherlands and Canada in German pharmacies. Since Cannabis is registered as a pharmaceutical this month in Germany, according to German law I would be allowed to carry a 30-day dose of my medicine abroad. I would have to fill out this document and carry it together with my prescription and the sealed medicine. If I do, is that in compliance with Canadian law? If not, would my prescription be accepted by Health Canada and Canadian suppliers? Would it be possible to obtain a prescription for medical marijuana in Canada on the basis of my German documents / prescription?

Please allow me an additional question: Your page states that “If you are authorized under Canada’s Marijuana Medical Access Regulations to possess or produce marijuana for medical purposes in Canada, you are not allowed to carry marijuana when you enter or leave Canada. You are also not allowed to import into Canada or export from Canada marijuana seeds or dried marijuana”

According to the different, bilateral implementing agreements on prescription narcotics, can registered Canadian patients carry Cannabis Flos from the Canadian program to other countries with a federal medical cannabis program like the Netherlands, the Czech republic, Italy, Germany or Jamaica, where Cannabis is a prescription drug?

Health Canada’s answer was crystal clear:

– No, under Canadian law, Licensed producers of medical cannabis are not authorized to accept an authorization for medical cannabis from another country.

– No, individuals must obtain a medical cannabis authorization from a Canadian doctor, or a Canadian nurse practitioner who is authorized to authorize medical cannabis.

– No, travelers to Canada are not allowed to import medical cannabis.

– Canadian travelers are not allowed to export their medical cannabis, regardless of whether or not they are travelling to a country that has a medical cannabis program in place.

So when it comes to my next business trip to Canada, I will probably have to show my German prescription in one of the numerous medical marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver. There, it will be briefly checked, copied, and filed before I can choose from a much  larger variety than is available in German Pharmacies. I can at least receive my medicine (half) legally, even though in Canada my prescription is obviously not worth the paper on which it was printed, while HC keeps on issuing export permits for the same product.

In order to change Health Canada’s position and not to break Canadian law due to a possible medical emergency, after our initial correspondence, I sent an application for an individual case decision to about two weeks ago; I have not received a response.

I had not expected such a clash from a country that wants to legalize recreational cannabis next year. Actually, it should be a matter of principle to place compassionate care above economic interests. However, Health Canada continues to neglect its programs and patients by forbidding them and foreign patients to travel with their medicines, while more and more producers are applying for and receiving export licenses for medical cannabis.

About Author

Michael Knodt is an expert on cannabis politics and cannabis culture across Europe. Born in North Germany, Michael has been living in Berlin since 1990. He initially studied history and journalism before receiving his certification as a carpenter. Since then, Michael has made regular visits to countries where cannabis is cultivated, such as Jamaica and Morocco. He has worked as a freelancer for Weedmaps, Vice Magazine Germany, Sensi Seeds and numerous German-language cannabis magazines since 2004. From 2005 to 2013, Michael was the Editor-in-Chief of Germanys biggest cannabis periodical. He also is the face and presenter of the most popular program on cannabis prohibition and just launched a new channel called "DerMicha." Aside from his journalistic work, Michael is a cannabis patient, activist, sought-after speaker on conferences and congresses, and a father of two.

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