Medical marijuana patients struggle to access pot under federal rules: study

UBC study says about one third of 450 patients surveyed nationally reported they could not access medical marijuana legally under the federal rules

VANCOUVER – A University of British Columbia study has found medical marijuana patients are struggling to access cannabis under current regulations and many are turning to the black market.

The study, led by UBC nursing Prof. Lynda Balneaves and PhD student Rielle Capler, looks at the impact of shifting federal regulations on patients who access medical pot.

Capler said about one third of 450 patients surveyed nationally reported they could not access medical marijuana legally under the federal rules.

“They really want to be able to use this medicine legally,” she said. “They’ve expressed patience and understanding that there are some growing pains but in the meantime, they’re also sharing that it’s really impacting … their health and well-being.”

The old rules allowed licence holders to grow pot themselves or find designated growers and were to be replaced at the end in April 2014 by new regulations that require patients to buy cannabis from commercially licensed producers.

A court injunction has kept them alive for those already enrolled in the program until a constitutional challenge of the new rules could be heard.

That challenge was recently heard in Vancouver’s Federal Court, and advocates are eagerly awaiting a decision.

Capler’s team is beginning its analysis and their results are preliminary. She expects the study to shed light on who is struggling to gain legal access to pot and why.

She said one major issue was affordability, noting patients have said the old program allowed them to grow their own marijuana at a cost of about $2 a gram, compared to about $8 to $10 a gram through the new program.

“For a lot of patients, that’s not affordable,” she said. “People don’t want to be breaking the law to get the medicine they need, so patients have expressed a lot of stress and anxiety around potentially having to do that.”

Many patients are turning to dispensaries, which are abundant in Vancouver but technically illegal. These dispensaries do require a doctor’s confirmation and have standards around quality of supply.

A Vancouver-headquartered cannabis company, Kaneh Bosm, has also announced it will bring two high-tech vending machines to the city.

The company’s director said in a statement that the machines are “similar to the Best Buy kiosks that you see in airports” and there are already over 2,000 of the devices operating in Western Europe.

The B.C. Pain Society installed the first pot vending machine in Canada last May at its Commercial Drive location in Vancouver, where director Chuck Varabioff said it has made more than $1 million so far.

He said the product is safer in a vending machine because it is sealed in double tamper-proof packaging, so it hasn’t been touched by multiple people before a patient buys it.

“You have to remember everybody going into a dispensary is supposedly sick. Now do you want 20 people before you handling your product before you actually buy it and take it home? I think I know the answer to that.”