A rally and march held in Halifax Saturday highlighted lingering questions for medical cannabis users once marijuana is legalized in Canada this summer.
Dozens of people attended the 12th Global Marijuana Rally and March at Victoria Park. It was organized by the Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana Society, a registered not-for-profit organization that advocates for patients who use cannabis for medication.
“We have huge concerns about the fate of medical cannabis dispensaries in this province. They are simply indispensable for patients who require them. The government certainly doesn’t have a constitutional program and it makes it difficult for some patients to access their medicine,” said Debbie Stultz-Giffin, chair of the society.
Concerns about policing
The statement for the rally, Stultz-Giffin said, is “stop arresting patients and stop raiding dispensaries.”
Stultz-Giffin said she also has concerns about how cannabis will be policed.
“The need for more rallies will arise if law re-enforcement begin moving in on the medical dispensaries and trying to close them, trying to levy the exorbitant fines that the provincial government are talking about. Then I expect you will see a patient uprising in this province — guaranteed,” she said.
Cannabis and edibles
Chris Enns is the owner of Farm Assists Cannabis Resource Centre, a dispensary in Halifax that has been raided at least three times since 2013.
Enns said he attended the rally to “create dialogues for patients around the work that still needs to be done for reasonable access” to medical cannabis, including edibles. Edibles are food infused with cannabis and they are not included in legalization yet.
“Our fear is that the access of those patients to cannabis and derivatives is going to be further constrained by the increased demand on the limited supply sources that are already available,” he said.
“There continues to be a lack of availability of edibles and extracts for those patients and that’s where we fill the void and want to create dialogue around.”
Enns said he hopes the government will create “distribution mechanisms” that will allow patients to access cannabis extract and edibles.
“Once that’s created, there’s really not going to be a void for us to fill. My goal is to see patients be able to go to a storefront and access these products,” Enns said.
Will Jackson, a Halifax man who has been using cannabis medically for about eight years, said it’s the only thing that’s helped him with pain after he suffered a workplace injury in B.C.
“In 2003, I was in an incident where I was in an oil blow out and ingested frack fluid and uranium tracer sand which really damaged my digestive and upper respiratory tract,” he said.
Jackson said he went from being on “every pill you can imagine” to taking cannabis in a capsule form. He said cannabis has allowed him to live a “normal life,” but now he’s concerned about how the government will regulate it.
“If we had to go and buy that at government prices, pay the tax — it’s going to break a lot of people. That’s why the need for this medical marijuana march is still here, even though it’s going to be legal,” Jackson said.
Provincial cannabis rules
According to the province, legalization of cannabis won’t impact the way medical patients access it. But other rules still apply.
For example, the use of cannabis in vehicles is prohibited. And those wanting to smoke cannabis in public will have to follow the same rules as cigarette smokers.
“If you’ve been authorized by your health care practitioner and Health Canada to access cannabis for medical purposes, you’ll still be able to buy cannabis from a licensed producer, grow your own cannabis for your medical use or designate someone to grow it for you,” a statement on the province’s website said.
“Medical cannabis will continue to be regulated by Health Canada.”