Activist Russell Barth sips a homemade tea that’s been steeping in a cannabis solution for 10 minutes.
“It tastes gross,” the 37-year-old says as the preparation cools in a refrigerator.
Barth has been using 12 grams of marijuana a day for more than a decade. Experts say the typical amount is just one and a half. Cannabis helps Barth combat the symptoms of his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and fibromyalgia, an illness characterized by chronic pain, fatigue and joint stiffness. His wife, Christine Lowe, suffers from epilepsy.
According to Barth, marijuana has reduced the convulsions, pain and inflammation.
The couple holds a medical marijuana licence for personal growth. But for the first time, they are now concerned about the inconsistency and availability of their medicine.
Health Canada has brought radical changes to the medical marijuana regulations on April1. The new regulations deny personal production licences to grow medical marijuana. Those with approved home growth facilities have to stop growing their own product. Instead, they would need to go to a doctor for prescription, and then buy from a commercial grower.
The new rules have raised serious financial and health concerns for Barth.
“When I stop taking my medicine, then my symptoms come crash again, and they come hard and fast,” Barth said. “I’m having problems with anxiety attacks and insomnia, I’m going to have muscle cramping and pain, I’m going to have spontaneous crying jags, I’m already having those.”
The new regulations would now allow licenced businesses to supply the entire marketplace — businesses like Cannabinoid Medical Clinic, a new walk-in-clinic that will assess people for possible marijuana prescriptions in Toronto.
“We aim for good patient care,” said the clinic’s founder, Dr. Danial Schecter. “We really want to make sure that if we are giving them medication that they are actually going to improve.”
To achieve that goal, the clinic will not only offer patient assessment, but will also work as a seminar space to educate physicians about cannabis therapy.
“All patients have to do is get a prescription, but the physician needs to be willing to write those prescriptions,” Dr. Schecter said. ”So with education hopefully we will be helping patients access the medication for all those who are in need.”
Marijuana therapy has been an uncertain environment for doctors. Under the new regulations, however, physicians will have a more prominent role in the process, since they will write prescriptions that patients can then take to the commercial licensed growers, with no need of a government permit.
Health Canada says the rapid expansion of its marijuana access program has had consequences on the health and security of 40 thousand people. Some risks include mould, fires, and even crime.
Dr. Schecter said the new system would decrease the risks involved in house grow-ops.
“If I have a patient who has lung cancer and he is immunosuppressed and prone to infections, I wouldn’t want them to grow their medication at home because likely they are going to get mouldy marijuana and smoke it and get an infection from it, whereas if they get if from a licensed producer they know that there’s no mould, so in a way that’s better.”
But Barth denies there are any risks involved in the process.
“This is Canada, there isn’t a single home in this country that has some mould in it,” he said. “People who have a grow in their home spend money for this, they want their medicine to come out nice and clean, they don’t want to spend a lot of money on fungicides and stuff like that, so they are careful.”
The new federal government regulations were supposed to be effective as of April 1. Initially, personal growers with licences from the old program were to be forced to destroy their product. However, a court ruling has put the plan on hold for now.
The government is appealing the case. Now, users who received their licences after Sept. 30 will be able to keep growing their marijuana until the case makes it to court. This means the new rules won’t be enforced anytime soon, and the legal process could extend for years.
Cannabinoid Medical Clinic will be the first clinic in Ontario to provide patient care and assessment in cannabis treatment under the new regulations. The clinic will also conduct research in order to provide data about the effectiveness of cannabis for specific diagnostics.
It is to be located at the busy corner of Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue and is expected to open its doors on July 1.