While the provincial government unveiled its plan for the sale of marijuana, clinics specializing in providing patients with access to the drug for medical uses aren’t worried about the competition.Clinic staff, however, are concerned about the welfare of patients if they choose to buy marijuana from one of the up to 60 provincial cannabis stores announced Friday by the Ontario government, in anticipation of the federal government’s legalization of the drug on July 1, 2018.
The province’s plans include establishing a cannabis control board to regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational use, similar to the LCBO which regulates the sale of alcohol.Although the proposed cannabis control stores would make it easier for people to access marijuana, the clinics offer patients far more than just a buzz.
“I feel that medical (marijuana) patients are probably going to be left behind in the dark, and that’s not a good thing,” said Sarah Havard, manager of the Cannabis Supply Co. clinic, 314 Lake St., St. Catharines.“Our biggest concern is that control board staff won’t know what strain types would effect people a certain way. They could very well give a person cannabis that would have an opposite affect to what they’re looking for. It’s not necessarily dangerous but it could be contrary to what they’re trying to achieve,” Havard said.
Cannabis Supply Co. has about 900 patients who use marijuana for a variety of ailments such as back pain, cancer, epilepsy and insomnia, to name a few.
“If a patient suffers from insomnia, and they buy a marijuana strain that gives them energy, it’s going to give them the opposite effect and they’re not going to be able to sleep all night. The lack of education is the biggest concern for our patients and future patients,” Havard said.
In comparison, she said the clinic’s physicians are there to ensure patients get the support they need “and deserve.”Christina Brock, clinic supervisor at Bodystream Medical Marijuana Services, on Queenston Street, had similar concerns about the province’s plan.
“Our demographic here is amazing really. We have patients up to the age of 93 years old, and they’re really just looking to help with their pain,” Brock said.“Patients don’t understand how really intricate it can be. They think they just smoke it or take it and that’s it, pain’s gone. … There really are so many different strains (of marijuana) that provide so many different effects for each individual diagnosis and we provide that education.”
Clinics can also test patients to protect them against potentially dangerous interactions with other prescription drugs they might be taking, while also weeding out patients who are interested in obtaining medical marijuana to get high, rather than for medical use.
“We process our patients very diligently,” Brock said.
Marijuana can also be prescribed at the clinics containing high concentrates of cannabinoids (CBD), which acts as a potent anti-inflammatory, while levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are reduced, eliminating the psychoactivity associated with the drug. It allows patients to benefit from using the drug without becoming intoxicated.And unlike so-called medical marijuana dispensaries — many of whom were shutdown by Niagara Regional Police earlier this year for illegally selling the drug — the clinics do not directly supply marijuana to patients and do not have any marijuana products on site.
Patients who use the clinics are either referred there by physicians, or have medical documentation about the diagnosis for which they are seeking medical marijuana.After being assessed by physicians at the clinic, patients can be prescribed medical marijuana, and register with a Health Canada licenced producer of the drug.
Patients can then order directly from the approved marijuana producer, and the drug is shipped directly to their home.Despite concerns expressed by the clinics about the impact the cannabis control board stores could have on patients, Brock University associate professor Dan Malleck called the province’s plan a “good start.”
“Having the current liquor control board infrastructure manage distribution is also a good thing. Ontario having a plan in place can provide a good example for other provinces,” the expert on Canada’s drug and alcohol policies said in a media release.
Malleck, however, also described the plan as a cautious approach that builds on the government’s expertise in running its LCBO stores.“Governments want to err on the side of caution when they’re dealing with something as historically socially fraught as cannabis,” he said in a media release. “Provincial governments are in a tough place because they need to balance social fears about access to cannabis with the problems of black market sales.
And they also need to follow legislation and recommendations initiated by the federal government.”However, Malleck said the cautious approach to the sale of the drug could allow the black market to continue.“Without a good number of access points, it may be difficult to undercut the so-called black market,” he said.