Dispensaries are Valuable
There have been a lot of phone calls coming into Westcoast Medicann Society with serious concern about the new proposal the federal government has released in regards to medical marijuana and designated growers. I thought the best way to talk about this issue is to respond directly to statements released by the media in an article from CTV news published Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 with files from the Canadian Press.
CTV News in bold. Westcoast Medicann’s thoughts in regular text.
The federal government is getting out of the medical marijuana-production business, opening the market to companies that meet “strict security requirements,” Health Canada said Sunday in announcing sweeping proposed changes to the medical marijuana system.
Although there is a program in place, (the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations program) the federal government has been relatively non-supportive of the ‘medical marijuana-production business’ (giving even licensees a hard time at nearly every angle) including the expansion of accessibility that could benefit so many patients in BC and across Canada. Handing the market over to “secure companies” really means they are halting the production and distribution of medicine from already established and licensed growers to turn ‘business’ inward, creating guaranteed government profit by way of huge tax and other monetary benefits from big pharmaceutical corporations.
The federal agency’s goal is to treat marijuana as it does any other narcotic used for medical reasons. Doctors will essentially fill out a medical document similar to a prescription, which patients can take to a licensed producer.
This is exactly the process that patients need to go through now to obtain their medicine. Doctors (of several varieties) fill out paperwork that is needed in order for patients to grow for themselves, get a designated grower, or become members of not-for-profit dispensaries. Shrinking the methods to obtain medicine not only hurts the patient, but it revives the stigma of ‘weed’; ripping cannabis out of the natural, therapeutic and holistic realm of medicine and throwing it back into the big empty black hole of medical narcotics (which is a category medicinal marijuana does not belong to).
Currently, patients apply to Health Canada to take part in the Marijuana Medical Access Program. When their application is accepted, they are able to either grow the marijuana at home or purchase it from a government producer.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Sunday that under the new guidelines, patients will no longer apply to Health Canada for medical marijuana, and home production will be phased out.
If a doctor gives the OK, why apply to Health Canada as well? Because their validation helps those suffering feel they are supported in finding relief within our country’s ethical point of view. However, stopping home production is an invasion of the Constitution of Rights as private citizens who have found a way to provide for themselves natural, life-giving medicine.
“Under our new rule, only facilities that meet strict security requirements will be able to produce marijuana for medical purposes,” Aglukkaq told reporters at a news conference in Maple Ridge, B.C.
“And because it will no longer be produced in homes, this may make it easier for local municipalities to pass zoning bylaws, for example, requiring any commercial production to take place outside of residential neighbourhoods.”
Major marijuana production is a major undertaking: it takes a lot of energy, just like any other large-yielding production. Support to build such production facilities is needed – but not in an effort to disable existing producers or home growing patients.
Aglukkaq said the changes are partially a response to concerns raised by doctors and patients about red tape. However, some groups criticized the proposed changes.
Right now, some doctors are prescribing medicinal marijuana and some are not prescribing medicinal marijuana, they are ‘recommending’ it. If the government is accepting these recommendations, there should be no reason why there is any red tape, or that doctors should feel threatened. If it is understood, on some levels, that medicinal marijuana is a needed prescription to those suffering from a whole range of illnesses, than it should be understood on all levels.
On Sunday, the Canadian Medical Association said the government has a role to play in regulating a substance for which there is little clinical evidence of efficacy.
Little clinical evidence of efficacy… then why is the government looking to ‘outsource’ the production and distribution of the medicine to ‘secure companies’ and limit prescriptions to certain medical doctors if there is no medical efficacy? The government wouldn’t be looking for ways to cash in if it didn’t work, and people weren’t becoming more educated to realize how well it works.
“There’s huge potential for harm to patients and the federal government’s decision is equivalent to asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded,” said CMA president Dr. Anna Reid.
And this is why more education is needed for the doctors who will be able to prescribe the medication – and for the public to note the worth of medicinal cannabis.
As well, other groups expressed concern that the changes will mean higher costs for patients.
As the federal government gets out of the medical marijuana business, taxpayers will no longer be subsidizing its sale.
Under the current program, the marijuana costs about $5 per gram. Under the proposed changes, that price will rise to about $8.80 a gram.
As it stands right now, there are very few people who purchase their medicinal marijuana through Health Canada. The cost per gram at most dispensaries varies from $8 – $15 per gram. If the federal government gets out of the medical marijuana business hopefully some extended medical plans will help to alleviate some of the added costs that will incur if the subsidizing from taxpayers ceases.
Rade Kovacevic, the president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, which supports community cannabis dispensaries, said he “remains concerned that patients will continue facing barriers to access.” According to Kovacevic, more than 50 per cent of medical marijuana users get their supply from dispensaries.
Dispensaries are absolutely necessary for those looking for relief and have made the decision with their doctor to pursue cannabis therapy. There are aspects within the dispensary itself that aids patients exponentially as opposed to ordering their medicine on-line or through the limited government programming. Dispensaries specialize in cannabis treatment and offer holistic methods of recovery. Patients develop relationships with the staff and sometimes come to visit simply to maintain a sane routine to their day. They also appreciate seeing what they are buying. In many cases, they don’t have the option of purchasing online because they don’t have access to a computer, a credit card, or are new to the medicine, or have questions that websites cannot provide answers to, Licenced growers also prefer to have dispensaries dispensing for them. Donating to a dispensary is win-win solution for everyone. Dispensaries keep it a health care service – not a commercial business.
In 2002, fewer than 500 patients were authorized to take part in the Marijuana Medical Access Program, a number that has since grown to more than 26,000 patients, Aglukkaq told reporters.
The rapid growth of the program has led to skyrocketing costs that are “unsustainable,” Aglukkaq said, making the changes necessary.
What are the ‘unsustainable’ costs? If there is more need for production and more opportunity for patients to purchase their medicine, isn’t this a mutually beneficial situation? Unfortunately, the unsustainable part means to me the government isn’t getting a big enough cut.
“Under the program, individuals will be able to choose their licensed producer based on strength, price, quality and customer service,” Aglukkaq said.
Which is essentially what dispensaries are offering now.
The health minister also told reporters the proposed changes were a response to law enforcement concerns about the potential for criminal activity. Jim Chu, Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police, spoke Sunday on behalf of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which praised the announced changes. Chu said the association’s drug abuse committee has documented “many negative consequences” of the medical marijuana program. For instance, even licensed growers hire unlicensed plumbers and electricians to help them set up their operation, which can increase the risk of fires and flooding, Chu said.
This is a weak argument against the benefits of the program. Growers need support to build their production facilities properly.
Chu also said some individuals abuse the system by applying for multiple licenses, while others sell the marijuana when they grow more than they can use. Growers are also at risk from criminals who would rather just steal marijuana to sell.
If individuals are given multiple licenses, the program isn’t doing it’s due diligence. There are crooks in every field of service. Dispensaries are actually helpful by being accountable to whom and where the product is coming from. If everyone stays above board, the quality of the program can only increase, and a shared sense of responsibility would help the protection of livelihoods and lives.
“These changes are necessary to reduce the risk of abuse and exploitation by criminal elements,” Chu told the B.C. news conference.
The government’s goal is to have the new guidelines in place by March 31, 2013, with the new system fully implemented by April 2014. However, Canadians have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes over a 75-day comment period that ends on Feb. 28.
A hastened push to implement this new system is an unfair way to progress any sort of medical marijuana health service in Canada. Please post your comments and help fight this ridiculous proposal.