Sask. patients see medical cannabis supply shortage

The legalization of recreational pot has made cannabis more accessible to the general public, but some medicinal cannabis users say it has actually become more difficult to access the products they need.

Advocates say there has been an access issue since recreational pot was legalized

Edible cannabis products can be prescribed as part of a medical treatment plan, but can't legally be sold at a recreational pot store. (Laura Meader/CBC)

It's more challenging for medicinal cannabis users to access the products they need now that recreational pot is legal, according to Saskatchewan patients and advocates.

"We have patients that have been using the medicinal avenue through the government since 2001 now not able to get their medication," said Kelly Csada, who is the director of Kelz Medical Services Corp. in Regina.

The shop offers educational presentations and one-on-one consultations with people about medicinal marijuana. They used to offer cannabis products in-store to people with prescriptions but stopped after police cracked down on dispensaries.

Csada said it's been a shock to some patients who rely on the medicine to manage their symptoms. 

"It's like going to your pharmacy and being on a medication for ten years and them telling you: 'sorry, we're out.' "

Csada said producers are believed to have directed product to the new market. 

"The veterans that used cannabis for PTSD — now they're going online and they can't get the medication they need because it's at a recreational store," she said. 

She said low income people can't access medicinal products online because they don't have computers at home, and they can't afford the product currently sold in recreational stores. 

Kelly Csada said 'the licensed producers were set up by the government to help ​medical cannabis patients. It seems now that their focus has been switched to the recreational stores.' (CBC)

Furthermore, the "expensive" supply is limited at recreational stores and Regina currently only has one open. 

Csada said she, too, has been unable to access the CBD oil she has typically used to help manage her Crohn's disease.

"​They're pushing medical patients to the street. And that's wrong."

Furthermore, she said people who might need medicinal cannabis are reporting new barriers at the doctor's office.

"Their doctors have told them its legal now, you don't require a prescription," she said. 

This is frustrating for patients, she said, because some of the products people need for health reasons — like concentrated tinctures or high CBD products  — cannot be obtained at a recreational store.

"To not be able to access the medicine that you need — that shouldn't be happening in Canada."

'A definite access issue'

Medicinal marijuana user Kathleen Thompson said Purolator delivered her medicine to her door on Monday morning. 

"The only reason I'm alive in my early 50s is because I've been able to access cannabis for pain relief," she said. "I turned 19 in a coma." 

The pain stems from arthritis in her skull and neuropathic pain resulting from a car crash decades ago.

Thompson said she would be bed-ridden without access to medicinal cannabis products. She is also a cannabis policy consultant and anticipated a shortage, so she stocked up in advance of recreational legalization, but she knows not everyone was able to do this.

"There is really a crisis and a shortage," she said. "There's a definite access issue and we've known for a long time in the industry that the demand would exceed the supply."

Thompson said the public pot policy cannot be considered successful unless vulnerable people — like those with health complications,  disabilities or low incomes — have access to affordable and quality cannabis within the legal framework.

"That's a mother of a kid with epilepsy who's seizures are contained," she said. "Or a late stage cancer person who can't get through the day without puking if they don't have some cannabis to help them."

Thompson wants to see more regulation and government oversight to get the industry on a better track. 

"Those are unpopular concepts, but at this point and in this industry right now we need to monitor things very closely and have as much regulation as possible for compassionate pricing and compassionate access."

Thompson said governments, including Saskatchewan's, have leaned heavily on the private sector throughout pot legalization. 

"The main interest isn't healthy public policy. The main interest is survival and profit." 

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