Ottawa's decision to snuff its role in dispensing medical marijuana has ignited a debate over how the move will impact public health and safety.
A range of groups, including those representing law enforcement officials, physicians and medical cannabis advocates, were reacting Sunday after the federal health ministry announced it will stop producing and distributing medicinal pot in favour of opening the market to private companies.
The current program has allowed anyone with a government permit to grow it themselves, including in their own homes. But the Conservatives argue that with 26,000 permits handed out over the past decade, the system has become unwieldy and resulted in "unintended consequences."
"We have heard real concerns from law enforcement, fire officials and municipalities about how people are hiding behind these rules to conduct illegal activity," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a release.
The government intends to implement changes by March 31, 2014 that will do away with the system of individual permits so that only companies meeting security requirements can grow and sell the drug.
The move has drawn criticism from a number of sides, and not everyone against the changes supports the use of medical marijuana.
Doctors represented by the Canadian Medical Association used harsh words to pan the move, arguing the government is abdicating its necessary role as regulator.
"There's huge potential for harm to patients and the federal government's decision is equivalent to asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded," said Dr. Anna Reid, CMA president.
Reid said the decision does not put patients first, while leaving doctors to deal with a substance that has little clinical evidence to back its use.
She added that the strains of pot being produced today are much more powerful than in the past, and they have not been rigorously tested.