The NDP's health critic is concerned that a licensed supplier of medical marijuana has signed an exclusive supply agreement with a group of Ontario longterm care homes.
WeedMD announced this week it will become the "preferred supplier" of marijuana — in oil form — to three long-term care and retirement home operators. They include People Care Communities, which runs seven care homes in southwestern Ontario, including two in London. Care homes in Belleville and Kingston are also part of the deal with the company, which operates a growing facility in Aylmer, Ont.
Taken together, the deal covers more than 1,000 longterm care beds.
WeedMD CEO Bruce Dawson-Scully said it's a move to serve what he sees as an expanding seniors market, one he says is increasingly open to marijuana as a care option for various ailments.
"Every day, seniors are taking a closer look at the benefits of cannabis to decrease the use of conventional drug therapies," he said.
However NDP health critic France Gélinas said she worries the arrangement could make the health needs of vulnerable residents secondary to the interests of the supplier.
"[The supplier's] primary goal is to make money," she said. "Is it really a choice? One provider will have a very big competitive advantage compared to every other provider because the home will do the work if you buy from one provider and leave you to yourself if you don't."
Dawson-Scully, however, said residents would not be barred from buying from a different supplier.
"If a resident said 'We want to go with your competitor,' that won't be held up by the home or us," he said.
Also, residents would still need a prescription to buy the marijuana, which the federal legislation requires to legally buy cannabis for medical reasons.
Dawson-Scully said such arrangements for various services are common in longterm care, where residents may not have the ability to shop around and learn about products and services on their own. Also, typically staff in longterm care facilities administer all medication to residents.
Dawson-Scully said his company did not pay the care home companies to become their preferred vendor.
Andrea Brissette is the vice president of care and services at People Care. She says the agreement is really about educating residents and staff about how to acquire the product and use it safely.
Prior to starting WeedMD and entering the fast-growing marijuana business in 2013, Dawson-Scully worked for years as a care home administrator.
"The reason we chose this vendor is because of their experience with longterm care," said Brissette. "They have experience with residents just like ours."
Brissette said care home staff will rely on WeedMD for advice.
"If a resident chooses to use medical cannabis, we would still have to administrate it so we need to make sure our registered staff and leaders in the home are educated on the product."
Brissette said this is increasingly important as a new generation — one often more open to marijuana as a treatment — enters longterm care.
The federal government is looking to legalize recreational marijuana use by July 2018.
Ontario announced earlier this month its plans to sell marijuana through a government-run agency, with sales over the web and from storefronts.