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Pot protestors: 'Let the people grow'

Canada's new medical marijuana regulations will make it more difficult and costly for thousands of Canadians to access the medicine, users protested Tuesday.

Dozens of people showed up on Parliament Hill to protest Health Canada's new medical marijuana regulations that force users to purchase pot from licensed, commercial users.

Starting today, Canadians will no longer be able to apply for permission to grow their own medical marijuana. The new program -- which a B.C. court recently said violates the Charter rights of patients -- makes that practice illegal and restricts users to purchasing medical marijuana from growers licensed by Health Canada.

"It's terrible. You can't take people's licences away from them that we have had to fight over and over again and we've had to educate the police because Health Canada never did," said Loretta Clark, who told iPolitics she has been using medical marijuana for the last four decades.

"The fact that they took it away to give it to the corporate world is something that is totally unacceptable," she added.

Critics of the program say it will cause the cost of medical marijuana to skyrocket, as prices are set by the producers.

Suzie Strand, a longtime medical marijuana user, said the regulations will see some people's costs go up from 35 cents per day to about $150 a day.

"Having to now purchase… what I grew for free is out of my grasp completely. I'm on disability. There is no way I can afford a commercial product," said Strand.

Some producers have said they will offer discounts to low-income individuals, or those relying on disability and or employment insurance.

The federal government introduced the medical marijuana overhaul last year, saying the current program was too costly and plagued with problems, ranging from unsafe grow-ups to criminal infiltration. According to Health Canada, the old program cost the department $16 million in 2011-2012 alone, a figure that was on the rise.

Marijuana users, however, have argued that the plant at home is not dangerous and that the process of producing medical marijuana is therapeutic.

"Growing it itself is therapy. Seeing it, cultivating it, smelling it, being around it itself is just a spiritual experience and it's not something you can duplicate or buy," said Strand.

The protest comes just one day after Health Canada announced it intends to fight a B.C. court's decision to issue an injunction allowing people authorized to grow pot under the old Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) to continue doing so in the short-term. The judge found the new Health Canada regulations, which restrict users to purchasing marijuana from commercial producers, would cause "irreparable harm" to some users.

Fighting the injunction, long-time medical marijuana user and advocate Alison Myrden said, shows how little the government understands about the plant's medicinal benefits.

If the government goes back to court "that means they do not understand that Canadians, like us, choose this as medicine. And that is all it is for many of us, medicine," Myrden said.

Annie Bergeron-Oliver reports for iPolitics, where this story first appeared.

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