Medical cannabis users are forgotten post pot legalization

The recreational cannabis system in Canada does not cater to all, advocates say


By Claire Wilson

Medical cannabis users are experiencing difficulties obtaining the products they need in a legal industry designed to serve recreational users.

According to Dana Larsen, cannabis activist and founder of The Medical Cannabis Dispensary, medical patients that need cannabis have been shunted aside.

“It was the medical movement and medical users and activists that got us to legalization, and they kind of have been forgotten post-legalization,” Larsen said.

The Cannabis Act is the legal framework under which cannabis is produced, distributed and sold in Canada. However, it is a recreational system that puts medical users at a disadvantage due to regulations like limits on potency.

Mark Haden, an adjunct professor at the University of B.C. and expert on cannabis, says the public needs to understand the benefits of a medical cannabis system that would include medically oriented research and health coverage.

“If somebody walks into a doctor’s office and says I have chronic pain, the physician might just say opiates, but if it’s medicalized and physicians are involved, they may understand that maybe the best treatment for them is cannabis,” Haden said.

Products needed most are unavailable in the legal market

Larsen says that many medical patients fall under the category of heavy users. This means that they need a higher dosage of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, that is heavily regulated under cannabis laws and can come at a cost.

“They might make sense for a first-time user who is trying to be cautious and doesn’t want to have too strong of a psychoactive effect,” he said.

In addition, the products available at legal cannabis stores don’t cater to some medical users.

“There’s some things like cannabis suppositories that, you know, most people don’t want to use,” Larsen said. “But for some medical users, those are a crucial part of their treatment and those kinds of products are very difficult to get under legalization and not really available.”

Packaging ordeal

Another main reason that medical users find it difficult to successfully use medical cannabis is the packaging. Legal products are sold in government regulated childproof packaging, but for patients with arthritis or other motor issues, this can be a nightmare.

“If you’ve got, you know, arthritis or hand issues or you’re older or have problems, just trying to get in there and get your medicine or get your product can be very challenging,” Larsen said.

Kelly Gorman, of the Arthritis Society, said in an emailed statement that while she understands the safety concerns, the type of packaging used for cannabis can be difficult for someone with arthritis to open.

For some medical users, illegal websites or dispensaries offer a range of products and potency limits that they cannot find in the legal market.

The B.C. ministry of public safety declined to answer several questions submitted by a Voice reporter about medical users turning to illicit suppliers.

According to Larsen, the illegal market is filling a gap for medical users.

“I think that there’s still stuff in the gray market that we provide that is not matched by the legal system,” he said.

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