Posted September 30, 2016 by Ljubica Kostovic

The Importance of Putting Medical Marijuana Patients First


5-thcEver since the government made it clear that it plans to legalize marijuana there has been a boom in the legal and illegal cannabis industry. This boom has raised a lot of questions about what legalization will look like, but it has also resulted in a world of confusion for many patients seeking expert guidance and pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products to help manage their conditions and symptoms. The federal authorities continue to amend regulations for access to cannabis for medical purposes, but there has been very little meaningful action, on the part of the federal government, to promote nation-wide cannabis education and access in a way that truly puts patient care at the forefront. It seems that the proliferation of dispensaries in Toronto and Vancouver has only sparked conversation about what the recreational market will look like. The issues that many medical cannabis patients face have gone unaddressed.

The question, simply, is this: what is the federal government doing to ensure Canadian patients receive the best care possible when using medical cannabis?

Current Federal Regulations: ACMPR

In its response to the Allard decision, the federal government recently introduced the new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). However, aside from allowing for home-growing by patients or their designated growers–an important feat, to be sure–the ACMPR does little to promote true patient access. The issues of cost, lack of insurance coverage, lack of patient and public education, and the continued role of the healthcare provider as gatekeeper remain. To read more about the way in which each of these topics pose a challenge for medical cannabis patients, please see our post on the limitations of the ACMPR here.

Despite the new regulations, the issue of patient access to safe and quality controlled medical marijuana remains problematic for many Canadians. In addition to having restricted access to medical cannabis as a result of a lack of physician education, many patients continue to use illegal channels, such as dispensaries, to obtain their cannabis product. While marijuana dispensaries may turn out to be a favourable model for recreational cannabis use, many agree that this model does not adequately address patient care for medical cannabis patients. The dispensary model does not currently provide patients with pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products alongside the guidance of a healthcare professional, as is the case with almost all other medications obtained through a pharmacy. Although the promise of marijuana legalization for recreational purposes will, no doubt, usher in a new era of how cannabis is perceived in Canada, the excitement of a future legalized market ought not to overshadow the many challenges faced by medical marijuana patients today.

No Accountability for Patient Care by Federal Government

Recent coverage by the Globe and Mail, alongside Minister Philpott’s press release, confirms that the federal government had access to information detailing the results of lab work suggesting contaminated cannabis was being sold in BC dispensaries for quite some time. As the articles point out, the federal government had access to this information and failed to act on it. Over the last year, or so, there has been much media coverage on the suitability of marijuana dispensary products for medical patients and for public consumption, in general. Earlier this year, an independent investigation by the Globe and Mail revealed that some of the product offered at Toronto marijuana dispensaries was not safe for human consumption. Even though most people involved in the current dispensary space are looking forward to a future which includes dispensaries for recreational purposes, the reality is that many medical patients continue to use dispensaries to better their health. This fact, no doubt, is known to the federal government.

While it is true that the regulation of municipal marijuana dispensaries falls outside of the scope of the federal government, accountability for patient care does not.

Patient care, in a national sense, means the involvement of many institutions on various levels of government to ensure that Canadian patients have reasonable access to cannabis product and education that may help improve their quality of life. Patient care means working with provincial colleges, such as the CPSO and CFPC, to help physicians access the most up-to-date evidence on cannabinoid treatments. Patient care means looking towards patient education services which offer patients the education they require to successfully use their cannabis. Patient care means not allowing the promise of a recreational market to overshadow the needs of medical patients who have been fighting for their right to use medical cannabis for decades.

Patient care does not mean only responding to the issue of dispensaries as it relates to the recreational market. Patient care does not mean issuing a few simple press releases condemning the existence of the illegal dispensary market. Canadian patients are still without access to medical cannabis because their doctors refuse to issue a medical document; because their doctors just don’t know enough about it. Canadian patients are still without access to cannabis education because there is no role for a healthcare professional, such as a pharmacist, to provide guidance to the patient on how to safely dose and administer their cannabis. Canadian patients still face stigma related to their cannabis use in their day-to-day lives. Canadian patients are still overshadowed by the promise of legalization and by the reluctance of our federal government and provincial regulatory bodies to take meaningful action.

Although establishing a system where the needs of Canadian medical cannabis patients are met requires collaboration from all parties involved in the cannabis space, it also requires leadership from the federal government. However, in the face of a burgeoning marijuana industry, it appears that the Canadian federal government has managed to shirk the responsibility of leading the conversation about the importance of patient care.

About GrowWise Health

GrowWise Health provides free of charge ACMPR medical cannabis education services to patients for whom medical cannabis may be an appropriate treatment option. In an effort to promote greater access for patients, the GrowWise Health team helps patients connect with healthcare providers who may assess their candidacy for medical cannabis. GrowWise Health Patient Educators assist patients in selecting the strain(s) most appropriate for their condition and symptoms and provide guidance on dosing, safety and modes of administration. The GrowWise Health team provides medical cannabis patients with ongoing support to help improve their quality of life. GrowWise Health Patient Educators provide services for patients in Toronto, Brampton, North York, Niagara Region/Fort Erie and across Ontario and Canada.

For more information on how to access GrowWise Health patient services, or to connect with a healthcare provider, please contact us here.

Follow the author of this blog on Twitter: @ljubicakostovic

/ / / / / /