Pubdate: Sat, 25 Mar 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Nicole O'Reilly
Page: A1


Gone are the days of marijuana-exclusive drug dealers and police
busting large grow operations; common are illegal medical marijuana
dispensaries in brightly lit storefronts and multimillion-dollar grow
facilities clamouring for federal medical licences.

"It's everybody trying to get ahead of the game because they think
that legislation is going to change," said Hamilton police vice and
drug Det. Craig Leishman.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says marijuana legislation to legalize
the recreational market should be ready this summer with a federal
task force recommending the provinces control the wholesale
distribution. But where exactly that marijuana will be legally sold -
and when - remains to be seen.

CAUGHT SOMEWHERE between the government, federally licensed medical
marijuana growers and illegal dispensaries are the consumers who say
marijuana is medicine.

Depending on who you ask, it's either way too easy or too hard to
access medical marijuana.

Cory Kaus says before he started using marijuana for pain and nerve
damage from a knee injury, he once went a whole month with only an
hour of sleep a night.

"It feels like somebody dipped my leg in gas and lit it on fire and
every step I'm walking on broken glass," he said.

Kaus says he needs about 25 grams of marijuana a day, even though his
licence is only for 3 grams a day. He uses a lot of oils and edibles
to cut down on smoking.

His licence is for personal production, which is allowed in the Access
to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) released in
August in response to a federal court ruling that upheld patients'
rights to grow their own medical marijuana.

However, the vast majority of patients must go through licensed
producers who sell online. The 130,000 Canadians with licences are
required to have a doctor sign off, something some patients find difficult.

Because of stigma and uncertainty around marijuana use, Kaus said many
doctors won't sign off. A small number work for clinics or have
arrangements with dispensaries, but most are too afraid to speak
publicly. Patients often face long waits and have to pay
administrative fees.

To maintain a licence, patients can only buy from one LP at a time and
must buy regularly. Some patients complain this system is too
expensive and difficult, and makes turning to an illegal dispensary
more appealing.

While Hamilton police continue to charge dispensary owners, Det. Craig
Leishman, says vice and drug officers use their discretion and do not
charge patients who buy from dispensaries, even through it's not a
legal source.

INSIDE HIS SMALL Hamilton apartment, Kaus shows a large collection of
dried marijuana, oils and edibles he says he needs to get through the
day. He is skeptical of both the licensed producers and many

Dispensaries are the wild west - with no regulation and a huge range
in product quality and service. The licensed provider process is
expensive and cumbersome, with many patients finding it difficult to
find the strain that works for them.

"If you find one you like, it's never there next time you go to
order," he said.

It can take some trial and error to find the right product, patients

Patients smoke, use vaporizers and dab (smoking a concentrated wax).
Then there are edibles - cookies, brownies, chocolate and gummies.

While licensed growers do sell oils, many of the specialized products
are not available.

It's the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is hallucinogenic and is also
believed to have therapeutic properties. There is also emerging
research that another chemical compound found in cannabis called
cannabidiol (CBD) - which doesn't make you high - has health benefits.
Some products isolate CBD.

Then there are the roughly 80 more chemical compounds that haven't
been studied and the suspected aromatherapy benefits from terpenes -
pungent oils.

"That's my mantra, when people ask me what does the cannabis industry
need, more research," said Jeannette Vander-Marel, co-founder of
licensed producer The Green Organic Dutchmen.

That was ultimately the findings of a recent massive study examining 
marijuana research by the Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana 
at the National Academy of Sciences in the United States:

"Despite extensive changes in policy at the state level and the rapid
rise in the use of cannabis both for medical purposes and for
recreational use, conclusive evidence regarding the short and long
term health effects of cannabis use remains elusive." The marijuana
industry and regulation is complex and promises to only become more so
with legalizing recreational use.

DESPITE PRIME MINISTER Justin Trudeau promising legislation by this
summer, experts agree it's likely years before the legislation comes
into effect.

Meanwhile, 20,000 Canadians are getting criminal records for simple
drug possession charges each year, said drug policy expert Michael

Hamilton's vice and drug unit has strategically decided not to charge
dispensary patients, but officers can use their discretion when
deciding whether or not to charge for simple possession for consumers
without a licence.

DeVillaer would like to see immediate decriminalization of simple
possession and then the creation of a nonprofit cannabis authority to
oversee legalized marijuana.

DeVillaer, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural 
neurosciences at McMaster University, detailed his recommendations in a 
recent paper, Cannabis Law Reform in Canada: Pretense and Perils.

"I've never seen anything as close to as complicated as this issue,"
he said.

For his research, DeVillaer looked at the existing alcohol, tobacco
and opioid industries, which he argues are poorly regulated and cause
significant harm to Canadians. He believes part of the reason public
health has been so unable to curb the risks of these drugs is the
influence of their profit-driven manufacturers.

Instead of following a similar path to legalizing marijuana, he would
like to see the creation of a not-for-profit oversight authority that
would prohibit for-profit companies from being involved in the
business. This would include buying out current medical marijuana producers.

The arms-length government body would include public health experts,
ban all advertising and reinvest money in health (not profit

DeVillaer said he recognizes his ideas are not popular but believes
it's the best option to protect consumers.

"The odds are against it, but not giving up on it yet."

Some patients complain this system is too expensive and difficult, and
makes turning to an illegal dispensary more appealing.
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