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Clinic founder Sam Mellace poses with a photo of who he claims as his nspiration: Jack Layton.
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The clinic's exterior near Danforth and Pape.
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You'd swear it was an actual medical clinic.
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The paint is still fresh at the recently opened New Age Medical Clinic on Danforth near Pape.
Walking into the not-quite-a-medpot-facility billed as an "alternate care" provider, the first thing a prospective patient sees, enshrined on a waiting room wall, is a large candlelit portrait of late NDP leader Jack Layton, purportedly the person who inspired the operation.
The idea behind the clinic is to provide pain treatment while preventing addiction by not relying on dangerous pharmaceuticals - and it's on this subject that founder Sam Mellace, an expert grower and student of the healing powers of cannabis, really opens up.
Imagine a scenario, he says, in which parents are taking the worst pre-scription drugs available - sleeping pills, Tylenol 3, opiates, OxyCon-tin, the list goes on.
"Kids come home, grab [a pill] out of the medicine cabinet and the next day another one. Then they tell their buddies." It's these chemicals, not THC or cannabinoids, he maintains, that constitute the first career drugs in the worst cases.
"Marijuana is not the gateway, because it's not addictive," he says. "The pharmaceuticals are addictive, so when the doctor wants to cut you off or wean you, you've still got that monkey on your back.
"Young people - or anyone with addictions triggered or compounded by medical treatment - are discovering this the hard way," he says. "They resort to buying heroin on the streets to substitute for the opiates the doctor's cut them off from."
Mellace has come up with a service, he says, that restores the personal, traditional care of the family doctor. And while pot won't be provided at this point - there's no showing your papers and walking out with a potent, Health Canada-approved stash - the facility will offer treatments using legal cannabinoids (the naturally occurring chemical compounds found in marijuana that activate the body's cannabinoid receptors) in the form of tinctures and cookies.
Cannabinoids have been proven to alleviate a range of ailments, including the pain for which opiates are often prescribed, but they don't get you "high" because they lack tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It's through this loophole that Mellace avoids being termed a marijuana dispensary per se.
"We have endocannabinoids in our bodies naturally as part of our defence mechanism," says Mellace. "We have receptors naturally. The one thing we do not produce is the psychoactive THC."
The clinic offers a range of other services: blood work, X-rays, ultrasound, harm reduction and family medicine. And besides treating the body, its staff will address the systemic gaps left by a Canadian Medi-cal Association unwilling to train doctors in the health properties of cannabis. Along with counselling and intervention services, New Age Medical Clinic will train care providers and assist patients in getting their Marihuana Medical Access licence.
But Mellace is only too aware of the intransigence of Canadian authorities: only 28,000 people have been able to get their doctors to prescribe medpot legally under the current system. Currently, Health Canada is getting out of administering the medical marijuana program and deciding how to license legal producers - meaning this clinic may have another function some time in the future.
But progress grinds forward at an agonizingly slow pace, and meanwhile people are hurting, Mellach says, particularly with the over-prescribing of medications like Oxycontin. The job of medical authorities, he argues, is to alleviate patients' pain without leaving them with life-derailing addictions; to "do no harm" is one of the ethical roots of modern medicine.
"Now," he says, "they're getting people addicted, ruining their liver, ruining their kidneys, stomach lining, bowels. Their whole life changes."