A legislative review of Canada’s Cannabis Act includes a question that could threaten the medical cannabis program, according to an expert in the field.
The 2018 Cannabis Act, which created a framework designed to regulate the cannabis industry, included a mandatory review to be done roughly three years after its passing.
Following some delays, Health Canada has set out to initiate the review with a questionnaire that includes a question which Ted Smith of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club said may threaten the future of the medical cannabis program.
The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is a medical cannabis dispensary that provides medical-grade cannabis to people who have documentation of a chronic medical issue that can be treated using cannabis.
“Question 5.2 in the survey, towards the end, bluntly asks if the medical marijuana program can be eliminated and patients kind of shovelled into the recreational system,” Smith said. “So they’re quite blunt in their question and I believe it’s because they have the full intent of shutting the program down.”
The question Smith is referring to asks: “Is a distinct medical access program necessary to provide individuals with reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes, or can access needs be met through the non-medical framework?”
A medical access program allows patients with qualifying conditions to access cannabis products with a higher THC content and communicate with sellers specifically regarding the medical benefits associated with the product they choose, which is not available in a recreational storefront.
However, under current legislation, patients can only access medical marijuana through mail order and with a credit card.
“Right now the only way a patient can legally ask questions from any of these producers is by e-mail,” Smith said. “So people that are illiterate, the elderly, people who are really disabled, or the homeless, there’s a lot of people who just can’t access the medical system because of how it’s designed.”
The struggle over the distinction of medical and recreational cannabis use includes doctors, insurance companies and the government.
However, Smith said at the end of the day, the people who are impacted the most are the patients who rely on cannabis as medication.
With limited support from the medical community, Smith said Health Canada has been pushing to end the medical cannabis program since its inception.
“They (doctors) don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to prescribe it, they don’t understand it,” Smith said. “So the medical community for the most part – while there are some doctors supportive – most of the medical community wants out of it. The insurance companies don’t want to cover it as a prescription drug.”
With the medical program already difficult to navigate, Smith said many patients are turning to the black market for high-dosage cannabis products such as gummies and other edibles.
Due to the fact that medical-grade marijuana storefronts are not permitted under the Cannabis Act, rather than paying for the lower dosage and higher taxed recreational products, patients are going through unofficial channels.
“The black market is prolific right now, especially for high-dosage edibles, medical patients aren’t going to just go buy more expensive, low-dose products because they’re legal,” Smith said.
This review comes as not a response to these issues, but as another obstacle for medical marijuana program advocates, he said.
Smith is confident that any moves to strike the medical cannabis program from the books will be undertaken quickly, but will be challenged by patient advocates.
“Hopefully it never happens, it will be challenged in court,” Smith said. “As time goes on, some of the arguments we’ve won on in the past aren’t as strong. So it’s a scary situation for patients because there are a lot of unknowns.”
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