Who Gets Medical Marijuana in Canada?

Lake Crew

The following article was originally published on VancouverSun.com

I, Dan Sutton, and the company of Tantalus Labs acknowledge that cannabis abuse is a serious social problem. Addiction and mental health issues are close to us as a company, and if you or a loved one are at risk of being one of the ~9% of cannabis users who suffer from addiction, we encourage you to seek resources to help you fight this disease. It is the position of Tantalus Labs that it is a high risk treatment option for those under the age of 18, those struggling with mental illness, pregnant women, and those suffering from addiction.

In Canada, it is legal to purchase and use medical cannabis. With the recommendation of a physician, cannabis possession and dosing is akin to carrying a bottle of Tylenol 3. While medical cannabis patients are protected from prosecution, this is in stark contrast to black market cannabis possession, which (volume dependent) can fall under the scope of new mandatory minimum jail sentences under bill C-10.

The stance of the federal government is seemingly a double-edged sword: medical cannabis - go nuts, black market cannabis - go to jail. Adding to the controversy, the lines surrounding medical use are blurring as new evidence of potentially therapeutic applications for cannabis is published frequently.

The overarching theme of this legitimized treatment method is that medical use of cannabis does not have clearly defined boundaries, and its use in treatment plans is discretionary for both physicians and patients. Today, if you derive a therapeutic benefit from cannabis, it is likely that you can access it legally in Canada.

Therapeutic applications for cannabis are anecdotally widespread, from sleeplessness to inflammation. The plant lacks the historic evidence of clinical trial and double-blind study to quantifiably validate this broad scope. As a result, it is prescribed with discretion based on failure of more conventional treatment options, generally at the request of the patient.

For instance, inflammation treatment involving over-the-counter Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil and Tylenol can contribute to stomach ulcers and high blood pressure. If these side effects become unpleasant for the patient, alternative treatment options such as cannabis might be a better fit.

The known side effect profile of cannabis is mild compared to that of many over the counter medications. A cannabis overdose death has never been recorded, and related emergency department visits are generally limited to concentrates or high doses of edibles far exceeding the range of suggested use. While sometimes frightening, these episodes are not life threatening. Contrast this with NSAIDs, which will likely claim 16,000+ lives in the United States next year to overdose.

The justification of medical cannabis lies with the individual and their physician. If a patient finds therapeutic benefit, and is deemed by a physician to have a low risk associated with cannabis use, they have a legal entitlement to access cannabis from a Licensed Producer (LP) under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), the only federally legal framework for cannabis access in Canada.

Once a patient and their physician deem cannabis an appropriate treatment, the patient is eligible to receive cannabis, delivered directly and discreetly, from the LP of their choosing. After registration with the LP, including doctor validation, the patient can order their monthly quota of medical cannabis via website or phone. The patient can then purchase quality assured medical marijuana periodically or on an as-needed basis.

Medical cannabis use in Canada is legal, transparent, and physician-approved. That said, the practice of using cannabis medically is not widely understood or adopted, despite the drug’s limited known risk profile for healthy adults, and an access regime that does not require a prescription. Perhaps this is why the decision to incorporate cannabis into a treatment plan is generally initiated by the patient.

If you find therapeutic benefit in cannabis, and you have the support of your physician, there is a legal federal framework in place to enable safe access for you. Who decides who gets medical marijuana in Canada? The answer is you.