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[Photo © Brenna Mackay]

As the federal government’s spring goal for introducing legalized cannabis legislation grows nearer, interested parties continue to look to the country’s current medical access system for the drug to light the way.

On March 9th, medical cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis Inc. announced it would be introducing new disclosure processes for test results. The change is intended to make it easier for patients to access quality control test results for products sold by Aurora, but produced by a third party. The move also comes in light of voluntary recalls that Aurora, along with cannabis producer OrganiGram Inc., announced last December for products sold by Aurora, but made by OrganiGram.

Advocates for recreational cannabis see steps like these as a move in the right direction. For Dr. Craig Jones of NORML Canada (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada), the main concern in legalization is setting “stringent regulations to ensure the safety and purity of commercial products and liberty of access to persons who have reached the age of majority.”

However, for current medical cannabis users like Lucas Thorne, the main concern is making sure the new recreational cannabis market does not impede on the existing medical access system.

Thorne has been using medical cannabis for four years to treat symptoms of his Crohn’s Disease.

“Now that I’ve got everything set up between my specialty marijuana clinic in Sudbury that provided me with the Green Card and their growers in B.C., it only takes two to three days for my medicine to arrive after ordering it.”

Some strains of medical marijuana have no THC, but increased amounts of CBD, meaning users can treat symptoms without getting 'high.' [Photo © Brenna Mackay

Some strains of medical marijuana have no THC, but increased amounts of CBD, meaning users can treat symptoms without getting ‘high.’ [Photo © Brenna Mackay]

While quick and efficient access is important to Thorne, there is another consideration to be made: the makeup of the drug itself.

“There is a huge, huge difference between medical and recreational [cannabis],” he said. “Especially when it comes to the chemical breakdowns.”

Two of the main compounds in cannabis are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is largely responsible for the ‘high’ sensation that users often experience, while CBD is popular for its anti-inflammatory properties, which is partly why doctors have been studying its capabilities as an alternative to opioids.

“Recreational [cannabis] is found to average only two to four per cent CBD,” said Thorne. “Whereas the special medicinal strains I order average 15 to 20 per cent. This makes a huge difference to me.”

Thorne also emphasized that his medicinal strains treat his Crohn’s without leaving him completely inebriated.

“The company I’ve been ordering from has multiple selections of strains that are designed to help combat chronic illness,” he said. “For example, I purchase a strain called ‘Catatonic’ that has absolutely no THC in it. Instead, it has much more than average levels of CBD, which is the active chemical that helps heal my Crohn’s. Without getting high, I might add.”

In their report to the federal government last November, the Task Force for Legalization and Regulation, while agreeing that all cannabis should be treated equally under the law, found arguments for and against separate access systems for the drug.

“On the one hand, there is a view that a separate system is necessary to preserve medical access,” reads the report. According to the task force, this is the prevailing point of view among patients. The report goes on to say that, “[o]n the other hand, we heard that there is no need for a separate system, as the end of prohibition will mean that those who need to access cannabis for medical purposes will be able to do so legally.”

Surprisingly, the task force suggests that this opinion is most common among doctors, “who see no need to play the role of ‘gatekeeper’ moving forward.” Patients like Kassia Skorzewska, however, would not benefit with only one access system.

First year Carleton student Kassia Skorzewska was prescribed cannabis to treat her concussion at the age of 17. [Photo © Brenna Mackay]

Though she is in university now, Skorzewska was 17 years old when she was prescribed medical cannabis.

“My doctor suggested using the cannabis for my concussion, because we had used, like, 10 different pain medications for my headaches and none of those medications were working,” said Skorzewska. “So my doctor suggested that cannabis treatment might help and it did help better than all those other medications.”

The Task Force’s report suggests allowing harmony between provincial drinking ages and cannabis consumption ages. At the lowest, that means a person would need to 18 to access cannabis. Cases like Skorzewska’s would be harder to deal with in a unified access system.

Regardless of how Canada handles cannabis access, Craig Jones says that the world will be watching the process.

“NORML realizes that the rest of the common law world will be watching how Canada does legalization as a template for their own legalization — which is only a matter of time.”

Kevin MacDonald is a fourth-year Journalism student with a minor in Film Studies at Carleton University.When not doggedly pursuing leads, he spends his time doing the crossword, struggling with sudoku puzzles, and raising his cat.

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