By Greg Murphy 
BELLEVILLE – Ross Middleton says he has been in pain for twelve years.
It started as a sensation of numbness between two of his toes. It quickly spread to consume both his feet.
“It feels like someone has poured gas on my feet and lit them on fire – and that fire has been burning for 12 years now non-stop. It’s very uncomfortable and it’s hard to deal with,” said Middleton at his Belleville business, B.M.A Hydroponics on Maitland Dr.
Middleton says he suffers from not one, but two kinds of peripheral neuropathy , a nerve disorder resulting from damage of peripheral nerves normally in the hands or feet. He also has a neuropathy in his upper torso, the result of severing a nerve during a lung operation in his twenties. Doctors have been unable to identify the cause of the neuropathy in his feet. Middleton says he’s tried every drug in pharmaceutical science to treat it – but only two things work. One is an injection in his calf muscles from a pain specialist.
The other is marijuana.
“It’s come to the point now where I only have a couple of options, and one is cannabis.”
Under a program called the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations  (MMAR), Middleton has been licensed to grow his own marijuana for medicinal use since 2006. His prescription is six grams a day, allowing him to grow up to 25 plants indoors and 12 outdoors. However, last year Health Canada announced the end of the MMAR and the beginning of the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations  (MMPR) which would not allow beneficiaries to grow their own marijuana. Originally, home growers had until April 1, 2014, to dismantle their grow ops. But in March of last year, a federal court judge granted an injunction  that allowed patients using medical marijuana to keep growing until the challenge could be heard. Then the federal government went to the Federal Court of Appeal  to overturn the injunction.
A hearing on the injunction is to take place on February 23 this year. It will ultimately decide whether or not patients have the right to grow their own. Protected by the injunction, Middleton can still grown his medicine.
If the hearing goes in favour of the federal government, patients will have to buy their marijuana from licensed producers.
Middleton worries he’ll have to pay too much for his relief.
“For people with neurological disorders like epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease, this is huge for them. You know, how can you take that away and make them charge outrageous prices for their medicine.? Most of these people are on disability too,” he said.
Middleton only gets $13,000 from Service Canada  for his disability.
“Can I afford to pay $10 to $12 a gram? I’m prescribed six grams a day, at $10 a gram, that’s $60 a day. How does a guy that makes $13, 000 a year on disability afford to pay $60 a day for his medicine? I can grow it myself and it would cost me $1 to $2 a day. You know, I’m trying to treat a medical condition that is otherwise untreatable.
“All these licensed producers are taking their product to the Toronto Stock Exchange  and they’re trading shares making millions of dollars off of it. They’re using marijuana as a means to get rich off the backs of sick people,” Middleton said.
Tweed Inc . is one such producer licensed under the MMPR to produce marijuana for medicinal use.
Mark Zekulin, the executive vice president, in an email to QNetNews says he’s aware of these concerns.
“We understand the challenges that can exist in trying to obtain affordable medicine, which is why we were the first in the industry to offer a Compassionate Pricing promise. Those receiving government income assistance or with an individual income less than $29,000 receive a 20 per cent discount on all products,” he said.
Tweed Inc. sells their products for up to $6 under their Compassionate Pricing promise. Zekulin also said in the email the company is trying to work out a way for patients to receive insurance coverage.
In a press release  from June 2013, Health Canada wrote that the program had come under abuse since it began in 2001.
“The current practice of allowing individuals to grow marijuana for medical purposes poses risks to the safety and security of Canadians. The high value of marijuana on the illegal market increases the risks of violent home invasion and diversion to the black market. In addition, these production operations present fire and toxic mould hazards.” it said.
When asked about the program’s abuses, Middleton put the blame on Health Canada .
“I blame that entirely on Health Canada. First of all, when Health Canada made the MMAR rules, they did not put an upper limit on how many plants you could grow … There are people out there who are going to take advantage of that loop hole. The second mistake that Health Canada made was they didn’t have any inspectors. Nobody went around and inspected that you were adhering to your license,” he said.
QNetNews was told Health Canada could not respond to Middleton’s comments and was told the question of whether or not inspectors were used to monitor home grow ops could not be answered in a timely manner. When asked whether or not Health Canada put a limit on how much patients could grow, QNetNews received an email from a senior media relations officer at Health Canada suggesting the opposite is true.
“Plant and storage amounts remain as noted on your PUPL (personal use production license) or DPPL (designated person production license). Under the new regulations, individuals who are registered with a licensed producer may possess the lesser of a 30-day supply of dried marijuana or 150 grams of marijuana. As part of the court order, an ATP (authorization to posses) holder may hold a maximum quantity of dried marijuana as specified by their ATP or 150 grams, whichever is less,” it said.
Next month’s injunction hearing is a big deal for Middleton. He says the neuropathy is spreading; it’s a scary thing that’s hard to keep off his mind.
“If it starts to spread up into my legs, it’s going to be serious enough that they’ll sever my nerves. You’ll have no more pain, but you’ll have no more feeling. It’s like a last resort; I’m not ready to go there yet. Also, they can amputate my limbs. I don’t want to do that at all,” said Middleton.
He said it’s easy to dwell on the constant pain and the anxiety associated with the degeneration of the nerves in his feet and lower legs. Marijuana offers him the opportunity to put his mind on other things, to get on with his life, he said. It also helps him sleep, if only for his usual four hours a night.
Next month’s hearing is a huge deal for Middleton and he’s confident the tides will turn in his favour.
“At this point I have my fingers crossed. I will have a lot more to say after the Supreme Court has made their decisions,” he said.