New medical marijuana law leaves some users in the lurch

New federal regulations on medical marijuana come into effect today restricting users' access to the drug. CBC Montreal's Shawn Apel visited a dispensary on its last day of operations and met with some users rushing to stock up.

Court ruling says people can currently grow their own or buy from licensed producer pending new trial

Licensed providers of medical marijuana are looking at a booming business in Canada as new laws restricting the distribution of the drug came into effect April 1. (CBC)

New federal regulations on medical marijuana come into effect today making it so that users can no longer grow their own and have to instead get a doctor’s prescription to buy marijuana from licensed producers.

But the new rules are confusing. Initially, users who also grew their own marijuana were told they needed to dismantle their growing operations and destroy their plants.

However, a Federal Court ruling on March 21 changed the legal landscape, at least temporarily, and users licensed for personal production as of Sept. 30, 2013, will be able to keep growing their pot at home pending a future trial.

Quebec's application of the rules

Today, Quebec’s College des médecins announced guidelines on how to apply the new law in the province.

Dr. Charles Bernard, the president of the college, said it was important to provide people seeking medical marijuana with the legal access to it. The college, in partnership with Quebec and other Canadian researchers, is conducting research into the effectiveness of using the drug to manage pain and certain illnesses.

I'm stocking up now because I don't have a choice. I'm sick and I could end up in the hospital again.- Derek Isaac, medical marijuana user

The college still maintains that marijuana use for medical purposes is not recognized by the medical profession.

In order to comply with the new rules, the non-profit Medical Cannabis Access Society dispensary closed yesterday — but not before a flurry of last-minute customers showed up to acquire what could be their last stockpiles of medical marijuana.

The dispensary sold marijuana to people with doctors’ prescriptions as well as individuals without prescriptions who were deemed to need the drug for medical purposes.

Dispensary clients stock up

CBC Montreal’s Shawn Apel visited the dispensary on its last day and met Derek Isaac, who went there to pick up marijuana he uses to help with seizures.

“I'm stocking up now because I don't have a choice. I'm sick and I could end up in the hospital again,” Isaac said.

We weren’t really selling ourselves for investment dollars, but yet we’ve seen numerous requests to invest in our company.- Marc Wayne, president of Bedrocan Canada

Another client, Yuri Drozd, uses medical marijuana to help with his Asperger's and anxiety problems.

“I don’t have an actual prescription to register with a licensed producer. I can’t register with a licensed producer because my doctor doesn’t want to fill up the form — he wants a recommendation from another physician. He won’t endorse my use from himself only,” Drozd said.

Adam Greenblatt runs the dispensary, which was housed in a nondescript building on St-Jacques Street West with no signage. He’s concerned about where his clients will go for their medical marijuana.

“It’s not a happy day. It’s a bittersweet, melancholic kind of day,” Greenblatt said the day before stopping operations.

Medical marijuana a big business

People could go to one of the new producers, a number of which are operated by big-budget companies. Bedrocan, a Dutch company with Canadian operations out of Toronto, offers different strains of marijuana on a website that is not dissimilar to the look of pharmaceutical companies’ websites.

Bedrocan Canada president Marc Wayne said the new federal regulations have attracted speculators and could mean big business for him and other companies.

“We weren’t really selling ourselves for investment dollars, but yet we’ve seen numerous requests to invest in our company,” Wayne said.

Adam Greenblatt used to operate a dispensary out of Medical Cannabis Access Society in St-Henri but had to cease operations on April 1 as new federal rules came into effect. (Shawn Apel/CBC)

Affinor, a junior mining company in Quebec, also just announced its intention to diversify into medical marijuana in March.

Ethical grey zone?

But while the business side of medical marijuana may appear to be booming, some doctors are uncomfortable with prescribing a product that does not yet have established medical purposes.

Dr. Mark Ware, an associate professor of family medicine at McGill University and a researcher into the use of cannabis in pain management, said the standardization of medical marijuana is a good thing. However, he fears some patients will not be able to find doctors who will prescribe the drug, and also that mixing medicine and business in this regard may make for some ethical grey zones.

“I worry, because there will be enterprising companies — and even physicians — who set up businesses online and consulting arrangements to try to meet that need, and who may or may not be practising good standard of medical practice in providing those,” Ware said.

In the meantime, people like Drozd are caught in the lurch as the law shifts.

“I’ve been quite stressed out, the fact this dispensary is closing today. This is my last day when I can stock up supply. I don’t know when exactly I’ll be registered with a licensed producer, so I don’t know when I’ll have supply coming in,” he said.

“So it’s kind of troublesome.”