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Making Medicinal Cannabis More Accessible: The BCCCS’ Legalization

This fall, Canada will enter its 3rd year of cannabis legalization. You might have noticed recreational stores popping up everywhere. Yet, according to the StatsCan 2020 Canadian Cannabis Survey, only 41% of respondents report making a purchase from a legal government-approved storefront. Where do the other 59% go? Learn why medicinal cannabis users still prefer storefront medicinal dispensaries like the BCCCS, and what we’re doing to preserve this model of operation, as we move toward legalization… 

The Problem with Obtaining Medicinal Cannabis

On October 17, 2018, cannabis became federally legal for both sale and consumption. Yet, three years in, the medicinal market seems to have been left by the wayside. Even with the currently approved system, many people still find it impossible to obtain reliable and affordable cannabis medicine.

Currently, the only way to access legal medicinal cannabis is through licensed producers (LPs) and their government-approved websites. This still requires you to obtain a letter of approval from a physician or nurse practitioner. Licensed medicinal suppliers will still charge 10%-30% over what would be considered affordable or accessible pricing (average retail price is $10.30/g for dried flower, StatsCan 2020). You also need a credit card or PayPal account to order online and an address where it can be delivered by Canada Post or a similar mail courier.

As many of you know, this method of online access does not work for all medicinal users. BCCCS members are often low-income. Many of our members do not have reliable internet access, do not own credit cards or bank accounts, and some even struggle to find a permanent, fixed address.

The current medicinal system fails to address those barriers to access, and therefore, leaves behind a large segment of the most vulnerable cannabis users. Patients often resort to the black market, which carries many risks, or they use recreational stores that provide little insight into how cannabis should be used for medicinal purposes. 

Why Websites Will Never Replace the In-Store Experience

Even as other options have become readily available, such as obtaining your prescription cannabis from a government-approved pharmacy, many medicinal cannabis users still prefer unregulated dispensaries like the BC Compassion Club. The question is, why?

Some of it may have to do with the lack of cannabis knowledge and expertise on the part of physicians and pharmacists. Because of cannabis’ long-held illegal status, medical practitioners are often woefully undereducated about cannabis consumption and medicinal use. A survey of hospital pharmacists in Canada reported that almost half of respondents did not feel comfortable giving advice to patients on the use of medicinal cannabis.

Add to that, the difficulty of obtaining a physician’s referral and the stigma still attached to cannabis use, and you can see why many patients have resorted to using recreational stores, even though pricing is usually 30 to 50 percent higher than unregulated providers or the black market.

Sadly, using black market cannabis comes with serious risks, such as exposure to tainted products that could be mixed with unknown, harmful substances, potentially harmful side effects because of the unknown origin of the product, and undesirable interactions with existing medications. That’s why unregulated, but legally-abiding dispensaries like the BCCCS, are seeking to legalize, to remove the need for black market purchases, while keeping pricing and cannabis quality consistent and reasonable, within the storefront model that our members have come to know and love.

In fact, research proves that brick and mortar stores are still preferred by most medicinal cannabis users. Patients with complex medical issues require staff with strong product knowledge, who can offer in-person consultations, and give recommendations on various cannabis products. Studies show, cannabis users prefer cannabis suppliers with strong product knowledge (71%), followed by a welcoming feeling (52%), products offered at reasonable prices (75%), and for respondents aged 55+, overall product quality (62%) (Deloitte , 2018).

Medicinal users need a physical storefront where patients can seek advice on strains, dosages and safe methods of consumption.

Our Appeal to Health Canada

As part of our mission to provide accessible, affordable, high-quality medicinal cannabis, we are asking Health Canada to approve a third option for medicinal users – to legalize, or at least provide exemptions, that would allow us to continue operating our storefront dispensary as we move toward compliance with cannabis regulations. We look to legalization to ensure that our services and products are reliable, and available, without the fear of closure or police interference.

An established cannabis provider like the BCCCS could become the new model for compassionate cannabis care, where we can offer product sales, cannabis education, one-on-one consultation, and advocacy on the patient’s behalf, and we are currently working with Health Canada to make that a reality.

This will involve renovations to our retail space, proper COVID-19 protocols and procedures (which we already have in place), city licensing permits, new product packaging that complies with legal standards, and we are also looking into purchasing the building that holds our current dispensary location, so that we can continue the good work that we have already achieved and serve our community members for years to come. 

Conclusion

Right now, there are few organizations that cater solely to the medicinal cannabis market. Our aim is to obtain our Health Canada licensing using the same patient-focused, non-profit dispensary model that allows us to serve those who cannot currently access the legal cannabis system. And though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a slowdown of this process, we are moving toward legalization, and with some patience, we will get there. As always, we thank you all for your continued support!

Want to find out how you can help? A little goes a long way… Help support our advocacy, club activities and member services. Check out our donation section on our website.

Or contact us for more information at 604.875.0437 or at info@thecompassionclub.org