Cannabis regulations are a ‘step in the right direction’ – at least for the industry

Medical marijuana regulations that limit how patients can legally obtain the drug have been in place now for little over a year and they are, mostly, having a positive impact on the industry, says a leading Toronto-based doctor.

“I actually overall like the system because it allows physicians to assess patients from a medical perspective for their suitability for cannabis and cannabinoids and it also allows patients a secure and safe source for cannabis,” says Dr. Danial Schecter, founder and executive director of the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic at Yonge and Eglinton.

The Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) went into effect March 31, 2014, making commercial licensed producers the only legal avenue for someone to obtain the drug. Under the regulations, patients are no longer permitted to grow their own medicinal cannabis and dispensaries are banned from selling it. Once purchased from a licensed producer, the drug is then mailed to the patient. MMPR also prohibits the sale of other forms of cannabis, such as extracts and oils.

“[The regulations] create conditions for a commercial industry that is responsible for its production and distribution. The regulations provide access to quality-controlled dried marijuana for medical purposes, produced under secure and sanitary conditions, to those Canadians who need it, while strengthening the safety of Canadian communities,” states the Health Canada website.

The new regulations were met with worry from critics and activists who said those in chronic pain would be blocked from using from medication that would allow them to live a normal, productive life. There was also concern over doctors’ reluctance to prescribe medicine that they are unfamiliar with.

But Schecter still believes the regulations are “a step in the right direction.” He says the new regulations create a controlled industry that ensures patients receive a consistent and reliable product.  

Under the regulations, the marijuana is tested for its concentration of THC and CBD — the two cannabinoid molecules within the drug we know to have the greatest therapeutic effects —  guaranteeing that the patient receives what they were prescribed. The producers also have to test for mold, pesticides, heavy metals and other inconsistencies.

Adam Greenblatt, executive director of Santé Cannabis, a medicinal cannabis clinic in Montreal, says the MMPR “set Canada apart on the world stage in terms of the marijuana industry.”

But Greenblatt says the regulations have failed to alleviate the difficulty patients experience in obtaining the medicinal cannabis they require.

“There are still major shortfalls in the MMPR that cause many patients to fall through the cracks,” he says.

Specifically, he sees patients not being able to have their prescriptions filled at the pharmacy as rather problematic.  

“It is actually one of the craziest things about this new program,” he says. If a patient is not home to receive the cannabis when it is delivered, they have to go to the post office to pick it up, which is often housed within a pharmacy.

Both Greenblatt and Schecter say the reason patients aren’t allowed to pick up their marijuana prescriptions at the pharmacy is due to pharmacists not wanting the drug behind their counters.

“I would prefer if they were picking it up at the pharmacy so the pharmacist could actually provide counselling of their medication,” Schecter says.

Greenblatt believes this aspect of the regulations will be of the first to be amended along with the banning of cannabis edibles. Its prohibition prevents those too young or physically unable to inhale marijuana from receiving necessary medical care.

In addition, Greenblatt says patients should not be subjected to any criminal sanction as it relates to their access to medical marijuana.

These regulations may eventually be open to amendments as both doctors and patients become more inquisitive about the effects of cannabis, which could change the medical community’s general opinion on this controversial drug.

“It’s coming from both from the top and the bottom, meaning it’s coming from patients who are approaching their doctor and saying ‘is cannabis right for me’ … or it’s the doctor whose starting to read more articles in the papers and in the journals,” Schecter says. | @nowtoronto

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