Pubdate: Sat, 23 Sep 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Colin Freeze
Page: A7


Fantino, once outspoken against culture of 'dopeheads,' says he has
'become more aware' of the drug's medicinal benefits

Two of Canada's former top cops - one of them recently a Conservative
cabinet minister - are helping launch a new prescription-marijuana

Julian Fantino and Raf Souccar are executives with a business that
will open a storefront clinic in a strip mall north of Toronto in the
coming weeks.

Vaughan-based Aleafia Inc. is not a marijuana dispensary. It aims to
be be among a new breed of corporate go-betweens, a "total health"
provider that creates treatment plans for prospective
medicinal-marijuana users and connects them with cannabis products
from licensed growers.

The fact that the business will not grow, sell or handle marijuana
itself should not detract from the obvious irony of two former chief
cops becoming cannabis middlemen.

Both readily admit they were once outspoken about the dangers of the
drug - and the politicians who would relax its prohibition.

"In my mind, having grown up in policing and so on, medical users were
- - for lack of a better term - dopeheads," Mr. Souccar, a former
undercover drug officer and RCMP deputy commissioner, said on Friday
sitting with Mr. Fantino in a boardroom at the company's office on
Jane Street. Mr. Souccar is Aleafia's president and chief executive

Mr. Fantino, who headed the Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto
Police Service before becoming a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper's
government, is the company's executive chairman.

"What I said then was then, what I say today is my value system
today," Mr. Fantino said.

In his unsuccessful 2015 re-election bid, Mr. Fantino circulated
flyers suggesting Justin Trudeau's decriminalization plans would put
marijuana into school children's hands.

"But I can tell you right now that times change, people's thinking
changes - I became more aware," he said.

Mr. Fantino explained: "We're talking about the medical benefits that
have evolved and been tried and proven … it's been a matter of
informing myself, educating myself."

On a tour of their company's nearby clinic, they said the company will
bring osteopaths, chiropractors, doctors and nurses to cater to
patients there soon.

Aleafia is clearly in the early stages - a bank of workout machines,
computer monitors, and medical-examination tables are slowly emerging
from cardboard and bubble wrap. The hope is to be operational later
this fall.

What makes a career cop change his mind about a drug? Mr. Fantino said
it was his time as Veterans Affairs minister, seeing how Afghan war
veterans were turning to prescription marijuana to deal with anxiety,
sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Statistics show that when Mr. Fantino took over Veterans Affairs in
2013, it was spending about $400,000 a year to help a little more than
100 veterans fill their prescriptions. When he left two years later,
it was spending $20-million for more than 1,700 veterans.

Since then, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, the
numbers have exploded. On Friday, the department told The Globe it
expects to spend $90million reimbursing veterans in the coming fiscal

That growth curve helps explain the potential business case for
go-between companies such as Aleafia, which plans to sell
client-treatment plans and get percentages of profit from product sold
by growers it recommends.

The niche fills a void - the federal government may license growers,
and allow prescriptions, but does not put marijuana in people's hands,
or monitor how they use it.

Should marijuana be smoked or ingested? Should it be heavy or light on
psychoactive elements like THC? How does it affect pre-existing
medical conditions? These are the sorts of questions Aleafia hopes to
address for each client.

Demand for such services could grow, especially if police,
firefighters and emergency workers are allowed to use medical
marijuana for work-related ailments, and workplace insurance plans
begin covering it.

In February, an Aleafia vicepresident - Marisa Cornacchia, a
registered nurse at Sick Kids - addressed police chiefs about trends
in mental health care for officers. Corporate records show the company
was founded early this year by William Car, a Vaughan-based

Mr. Souccar was a member of the Liberal government's task force on
decriminalizing marijuana. He said that work allowed him to meet
people on prescriptions.

"They were people no different than me," he said. "People with
careers, and jobs and well educated, and all they wanted was some sort
of normalcy back in their life. To be able to live a pain-free life,
to be able to sleep at night, to be able to be productive like they
once were."

Mr. Souccar even said he now believes medical marijuana could help
address Canada's opioid crisis.

"Cannabis can be used to get people off of opioids," he said, adding
that he regrets seeing medicinal marijuana users as

As for Mr. Fantino, he simply says the new business shows how people
can change.

"We have evolved. In our drug squad days we kept locking people up.
Did we care about this other stuff? Not really," he says. "This was
our job right? But eventually in your life and your career you become
more aware."
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MAP posted-by: Matt