Cannabis Act Review 2022: Survey Responses from the VCBC

Compiled and written by Ted Smith and Jacq Kittel

We are pleased to present our formal answers to Health Canada’s review of the Cannabis Act. They are conducting this review as a key component of the legislative process to gather public input via online engagement. The Cannabis Act has been highly problematic and inadequate since its inception, and this review is our opportunity to voice our concerns, to raise public awareness, and to advocate for the needs of a distinct medical cannabis program.

The below answers are intended to motivate and inspire citizens in their responses to the survey. Respondents have the freedom of skipping questions and only answering the questions that are the most pressing.

In our view, Section 5 and question 5.2 is the most alarming: Health Canada asks “Is a distinct medical access program necessary to provide individuals with reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes, or can access needs be met through the non-medical framework? Please explain. ” This question signals to us that Health Canada is looking to justify the end of the medical cannabis program in Canada. Please voice your concern now and together we may be able to save the medical cannabis program.

Info about the survey: (Open until Nov 21)

Health Canada: Engaging on cannabis legalization and regulation in Canada: Taking stock of progress


The VCBC’s Formal Answers:
Section 1: Minimizing Harms to Protect Canadians.

1.1 What is your view of the current legislative and regulatory restrictions in place to safeguard public health? 

According to the Canadian Public Health Association, “[p]public health is the organized effort of society to keep people healthy and prevent injury, illness and premature death. It is a combination of programs, services and policies that protect and promote the health of all Canadians.”  The current legislative and regulatory restrictions in place currently do not safeguard public health, and instead the Cannabis Act contributes to harm upon Canadian citizens. At worse, the current regulations threaten the well being of patients who rely on cannabis for their health.  

Cannabis is a well researched substance that has innumerable benefits for so many demographics. The restrictions to 10mg for THC content in edible products is unfounded and arbitrary and only appears to present as a method of mitigating the potential for harm. By severely restricting THC limits in edible products, Health Canada and the Cannabis Act fuels the opiate crisis, it exploits and under serves patients and recreational users, and the regulations actively stimulate the underground economy.

In light of the ongoing opioid epidemic, regular use of edible cannabis in high enough doses is an effective substitute for opioid use. Cannabis is also an exceptionally useful medicine to manage the symptoms of withdrawal when coming off opioids. Cannabis is an exceptionally useful pain reliever that doesn’t come with severe or addictive side effects like traditional pharmaceutical pain medicines. Cannabis should be treated as the primary tool in a physician’s tool box for managing a patient’s pain, long before a triplicate opioid is ever considered. Patients in chronic pain often need to consume hundreds of milligrams of THC per day for symptom management.  The current 10mg limit for cannabis edibles doesn’t even come close to being adequate for medical purposes. 

In November 2022, the Select Standing Committee on Health released a document titled, “Closing Gaps, Reducing Barriers: Expanding the response to the toxic drug and overdose crisis.”  This document compiles the survey responses of healthcare providers and stakeholders across the country to assess how the government should approach managing the opiate crisis.  In this review, the Standing Committee provides several recommendations on how to improve health care delivery to mitigate further opioid related harms. 

 “Several organizations, including the Public Health Association of BC, highlighted the need for low-barrier and culturally appropriate access to primary health care, which needs to include wraparound supports. Resident Doctors of BC noted that clinical health care settings can be problematic, unwelcoming, or even triggering for some individuals who seek care for substance use, and added that anyone in the health care system can provide low-barrier compassionate care, not only physicians.”  (Select Standing Committee on Health, pg. 58)  

Medical compassion clubs with retail storefronts where members can access in person quality medical advice and information have been shut down and raided across this country since legalization.  The federal government is denying patients access to culturally appropriate health care because our medical practitioners aren’t educated in cannabis medicine and recreational stores are not allowed to give medical advice.  Medical compassion clubs provide services that legal operations are barred from including: in person in depth health care advice, local delivery, access to high dose concentrated medicine, smoking lounges and a range of medical products to meet patients needs including suppositories and topicals.  Storefront medical compassion clubs provide primary points of access for health care needs for patients who are new to cannabis, patients with cancer or chronic pain, or those who are seeking alternatives to opioid substance use.

The 10mg limit per dose forces consumers to purchase multiple units of sugar and carbs and to spend more money to reach the doses of 50 to 100mg needed for regular users. In the medical market, patients are limited to the same 10mg THC limit and they are being charged an Excise tax, or a sin tax, on prescribed medicines. Low THC limits, excessive packaging, a restrictive distribution system, advertising restrictions and lack of consumption spaces have all hurt the cannabis industry.

The underground economy has been flourishing during this time of extreme restriction on the legal cannabis industry.  Everything from the unduly difficult licensing process to extremely tight rules for operations and sales restrictions makes participation in the legal market a nightmare for small businesses and farmers. Therefore online dispensaries and the illicit market have been thriving all over the country to meet the demand that the legal dispensaries are handcuffed from filling. Unlike the legal market, delivery services, high dose edibles, high quality fresh flower, and cannabis advice are all available in the illicit market.  

1.2 What controls, if any, would you like to see changed and why? 

The 10mg limit on THC edibles is arbitrary and needs to be removed. Cannabis edibles should be legally available with a wide range of doses and options so consumers have the information and options they need to pick the right dose for themselves. 

Currently medical cannabis is being charged a federal excise tax.  This same sin tax is applied equally to medical cannabis as it is recreational cannabis.  It is immoral and wrong to charge a sin tax on medicine that is prescribed to patients from their health care practitioners. If Health Canada is concerned with getting cannabis out of the hands of the black market, then charging an excise tax is an extremely efficient way to prevent consumers from buying in the legal market.  The attempt to bolster a legal cannabis industry is completely undermined by an unnecessarily high tax rate on this consumer good. 

Packaging requirements are onerous and detrimental to waste streams. This has been a constant criticism of legal cannabis for the past four years. We are in a climate emergency and adding to the problem with over packaged plastic containers is obviously wrong and easily fixable. 

Advertising restrictions need to be dramatically reduced so cannabis businesses can promote their products to boost their dismal sales in the legal market. Retailers should be able to buy directly from producers without being forced to pay an extra provincial tax or handling fees or to purchase their inventory from the Liquor Distribution Branch.  There should be easier access between retailers and farmers without a government middle man. 

Medical storefronts should be allowed across Canada, instead of the mail order only system for medical cannabis.  An intensive training program established for budtenders working in medical storefronts needs to be created to bridge the gap between the miseducation of our medical practitioners and 100 years of prohibition.  

The current system to apply for a grow license also needs to be reviewed.  Small businesses are expected to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and infrastructure for an operation before they even apply for a license.  And when the application is sent and the infrastructure is invested in, the application for a license can still get denied. This model is unduly expensive and inaccessible and a deterrent to participation in the legal market, which fuels the illicit market. 

1.3 Are the current safeguards adequately restricting access and helping to protect the health of youth? 

Many cannabis regulations are put into place in the name of protecting youth.  We know cannabis is minimally harmful when compared to the well documented and known health risks of youth consumption of alcohol and tobacco.  Cannabis is a non addictive substance that poses few risks to youth. We know providing fact based education and harm reduction services is the best way to minimize the potential for harm among youth who choose to use cannabis.

The restrictions in place are too severe in their limits on access to cannabis for all consumers, even lawful adult recreational users and especially medical patients. The bans on medical storefronts, on delivery, advertising, the excise tax, and the THC limits restrict access to cannabis in a way that is unconstitutional and forces consumers to look to get their desired products outside the legal market.

The illicit online illegal market, which is thriving under the current regulations, does not have tight security when it comes to providing cannabis to underage youths. Therefore, if participation in the legal market was more accessible, there wouldn’t be as strong of a demand for illicit products.  If cannabis was readily and cheaply available in the legal market to informed adults, then there wouldn’t be a high demand for low barrier online dispensaries where youth can more easily access cannabis.  

When it comes to patients, the current restrictions prevent a budtender in a recreational store from giving any medical information at all about strains.  Patients also run into barriers to access because most doctors don’t understand or actively distrust the value of medical cannabis. Many patients struggle to get authorized use of medical cannabis, and if they ever are able to secure a prescription for cannabis, patients have to order through the mail. This is an undo barrier to access that doesn’t protect youth, it just harms patients. 

1.4 Under the current framework, what presents the greatest risk to youth in accessing and consuming cannabis? 

When cannabis was made legal in Canada, the federal government imposed the most extreme punishments and regulations for enforcing the Cannabis Act in all of cannabis’ history in Canada. 

The greatest risk to youth under the current framework is the potential for their caregiver to face a maximum sentence of 14 years if they are found guilty of providing cannabis to a minor.  Imagine a young person has learned of or witnessed the harms of alcohol and narcotic use and has asked their caregiver for safe access to legally regulated cannabis.  If that caregiver is caught supplying a minor with cannabis, the youth will face the incredibly harmful potential of losing their caregiver to the judicial system for the better part of two decades. 

The other consideration is if there is an end to the medical cannabis system, where are sick youth to source their medicine?  Cannabis is a well known cancer treatment and medicine for a wide range of conditions with amazing results for children and youth.  If there is an end to the medical cannabis system, then there will be no lawful options for children under 19 years of age to lawfully access this life saving medicine.  

Section 2. Education and Awareness to Support Informed Choices

2.1 To what extent have public education efforts delivered the appropriate messages and reached the appropriate audiences, including youth and young adults?

Public education on cannabis continues to focus on mitigating the potential for harms from low dose cannabis use.  Instead of focusing on cannabis’s revolutionary potential to replace alcohol or other drug use, cannabis continues to be portrayed as a risky substance.

Emphasizing the potential harms of cannabis while ignoring or diminishing the potential benefits has stopped many from using cannabis, or dosing themselves properly.  The fear based messaging from Health Canada has stopped many from trying this effective treatment for their stress, anxiety, pain or other ailments.  

Ultimately, the lack of re-education of our health care practitioners is a major underlying failure of Health Canada in their public education efforts.  Physicians continue to deny patients prescriptions for cannabis or to authorize patients’ use of medical cannabis.  GP’s lack of understanding of cannabinoids or terpenes means that when a patient or a general consumer has a question about cannabis, they can’t get reliable information from a recreational store or their doctor. 

To effectively educate the public on cannabis and its uses, Health Canada should look to improve how it educates its doctors.  By increasing the education of prescribers and permitting more prescribers to lawfully prescribe cannabis medicine, more people will learn how to use this medicine effectively from health care providers. Empowering citizens through informed health care is more effective than jumping straight to public ad campaigns as the ultimate tool to educate the masses. 

2.2 What additional measures or areas of focus could be considered to continue to close the gap between perception of risks and harms and scientific evidence? 

The scientific evidence exists globally.  Calls for more research before making policy does not strengthen the final results, it delays action. 

The perception of risk is fueled by decades of misinformation from our trusted health care professionals.  Ackowledging how cannabis was wrongly demonized in the past would be one method of re-establishing trust with the public. 

The science proving many of the benefits of cannabis and how it assists our natural endocannabinoid systems has been available to the government for years, yet it is constantly ignored, diminished or dismissed.  In this question all that is being asked about is the harms and risks, when the real harm is exaggerating the potential negative outcomes while ignoring the incredible positive benefits.  

Section 3. Progress Toward Establishing a Safe and Responsible Supply Chain 

3.1 Do adult Canadians have sufficient access to a quality-controlled supply of legal cannabis? 

Yes/No/Do not know/ Prefer not to say.    Yes/No:  Explain why.

No, adult Canadians do not have sufficient access to a quality controlled supply of legal cannabis.  Many jurisdictions across Canada still do not even allow legal cannabis stores in their areas, four years post federal legalization.

Storefront retailers are only able to sell expensive and low dose edibles and they are barred from providing advice on the medical uses of this plant. Patients are forced to buy meds online and they cannot rely on a mail order system alone for their medical cannabis products.  Patients require storefront facilities with qualified personnel available to answer questions.

Patients and recreational consumers should have access to a range of high dosage edibles. Under the current framework consumers are forced to eat unhealthy and large amounts of chocolate, sugar and carbs in the available edibles to get the potency required for regular users who need 50 to 100mg of THC to achieve the desired effects.

Four years into federal legalization of cannabis and the biggest licensed producers in the industry are producing five times as much cannabis as needed and they are failing on an epic economic scale. The large-scale production of cannabis has led to a flood in the market and a drop in the value of the cannabis, which is made even more overwhelming in combination with a heavily restricted market.  There is a ton of weed being grown but there are too many barriers to getting that cannabis into the hands of consumers. There’s also so much cheap low quality cannabis that it is being warehoused for multiple years, making most of the products sold in stores old and stale.  

The favoring of mega corporations by Health Canada when it comes to issuing production licenses meant that the legal industry was doomed to repeat the mistakes of agri-business elsewhere.  Mass produced, male dominated, corporate weed has not provided the thriving cannabis industry we were promised.  Health Canada should put the power of the cannabis industry back into the hands of the small scale farmers and producers that built the cannabis industry.  There is a wealth of industry knowledge and expertise lost when the licensing system favors MBAs over years spent in the garden working with this medicine. 

3.2  What alternative measures, if any, could the government consider to further strengthen and diversify the legal market?

Medical storefronts need to be included in the legal system.  This will allow patients to have access to products from multiple LPs.  Currently under the ACMPR, patients who are accessing the current mail order program are only allowed to register with one company at a time. That means if a given LP runs out of a product a patient relies on, or worse, discontinues a medication, then the patient’s well being is in jeopardy.  Additionally, if an LP is failing in their customer service or quality assurance provision, patients need to have the ability to find better access and services elsewhere. 

Non-profit medical compassion clubs like the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club have been running effectively for 26 years.  This small scale compassion club serves patients with a proof of a chronic medical condition and supplies locally sourced cannabis and small batch cannabis edibles, topicals and suppositories to patients only.  Compassion clubs like the VCBC should be used as a case study to see how small scale vertically integrated businesses can be replicated across Canada.

We know that locally based, family owned, small scale businesses are the answer to globalized agri-business.  The same applies to cannabis.  Putting the cannabis industry in the hands of small scale growers, mom and pop store fronts, and focusing on local markets is the best method to diversify and strengthen the legal market. 

To further diversify the cannabis industry, the government ought to consider facilitating and encouraging environmentally friendly packaging and business practices.  The only way to make the cannabis industry a robust one is to make it a sustainable one.  Providing support or incentives to adopt environmentally friendly packaging and processing systems would be a great method to capture the imaginations of designers and entrepreneurs to diversify the industry. 

The government could also look at ways in which it could encourage small growers to participate in the legal market. As Canadians we are sold the dream of owning our own businesses and small scale cannabis businesses and farms are an excellent option for many young families.  Simplifying the licensing process and providings grants and incentives to participate as a small scale cannabis grower or producer would be an excellent method to diversify the industry.

3.3  What alternative measures, if any, could the government consider to better meet the needs of racialized, under-represented, or Indigenous communities within the cannabis licensing program? 

As an act of restorative justice, the cannabis licensing program could consider offering reduction in fees or fast paced pathways for licensing for persons who received criminal charges for cannabis related offenses. Providing equitable support in the cannabis licensing program to citizens who were deemed criminals for what is now a multi billion dollar industry is one avenue to meet the needs of those harmed by cannabis regulations in the past. Offering grants or interest-free loans to people with a criminal record attempting to transition into the legal scheme would be a means of compensating those punished by prohibition while encouraging formerly illegal operators to become fully legit.  

Cannabis licensing currently is extremely difficult and confusing and costly.  The current system essentially requires a Masters of Business level of expertise in combination with a team of experts working full time to navigate the licensing system. The regulatory scheme is not designed for people who are relying on the incomes of their businesses to apply for cannabis licenses. 

Only entrepreneurs with immense cash assets to burn while waiting for the licensing process to run its course have been able to successfully transition into the legal system. Practitioners of law even struggle to understand the vast and complex licensing program in Canada. There are entire pariah consultancy agencies that are profiting off of the complexity of the system and who solicit their services to help small stores and producers to navigate the licensing process. It does not need to be this convoluted. 

Streamlining the cannabis licensing program and increasing ease of access and readability would be the most effective method to meet the needs of underrepresented communities. A business should not need a huge team of experts to get a license to participate in the legal market. It is a huge deterrent to participation in the legal market. 

3.4 To what extent have the current restrictions on home cultivation of four plants or less supported the safe and responsible production of cannabis?

The Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) had allowed patients to grow their own medicine since 2001. 

In 2013, a new medical cannabis program, the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), was enacted by Health Canada to replace the old system that allowed patients to grow their own medicine.  The MMPR system wanted patients to purchase their medicine from Licensed Producers only and did not have a licensing schema for individuals. 

The Allard decision was handed down in 2016 when a coalition of patients took the government to court for making changes to the medical regulations that eliminated personal licenses to grow cannabis.  Instead the new MMPR focused on developing a competitive market of Licensed Producers (LP) and tried to take away patients’ rights to grow their own medicine.  

In the Allard trial, the judge did not accept Health Canada’s argument that the new MMPR program was better for patients, nor did he agree that the risks of allowing patients to grow their own medicine are so great that it should be prohibited. 

Following the unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015 in the Smith decision regarding cannabis extracts, Justice Phelan recognized the federal government had not followed the generally accepted regulatory procedures to control cannabis, instead creating unique regulations that have struggled to be consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Allard decision led Health Canada to release the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes (ACMPR) that blended large scale Licensed Producers with small scale Designated Grower licenses and personal grow licenses. Since the beginning of the program, Licensed Producers have hinged their future success upon having a tight grip on the supply of cannabis as medicine. 

Four plants is not enough to grow a reasonable amount of cannabis indoors.  There are two stages to growing cannabis. The first stage is called the vegetavie stage, during which the plant grows tall.  This is followed by the flowering stage during which the buds form and mature.  Health Canada should allow individuals to grow 10 plants in each stage to ensure that a reasonable amount of personal medicine can be grown by anyone who desires.

Patients and consumers deserve to have the right not to participate in a restrictive and overbearing legal cannabis market and to grow their own meds.  When a consumer grows their own medicine, they are able to control their own costs, to control the inputs and quality and to grow the strains of their preference or medical need.  Additionally, It is unfair to apply the allowable amount of four plants to households.  Cannabis should be regulated by the individual rather than limiting 4 plants per house. 

Section 4. Protecting Public Safety

4.1 What are your general impressions of legal retailers’ progress to-date in capturing the legal market? Please explain.

The government regulations have been counter-productive in the effort to take market share away from the illegal industry. Regulators did not trust those that built the cannabis industry and saw them as criminals. The legal cannabis was preferably placed in the hands of the wealthy elite who had teams of lawyers to navigate the bureaucratic licensing complexity. Large corporations and well off individuals succeeded in getting licensed because they had the wealth to not depend on their cannabis businesses operating for months on end while waiting for a license.  Few people who built the Canadian legacy cannabis industry are able to participate in the legal market due to the unrealistic expenses and the licensing headache. 

This policy choice lost a lot of industrial knowledge which is evident now in a legal cannabis industry where small businesses are hemorrhaging money and barely staying afloat. The outcome has been male dominated, white washed, mass produced cannabis corporations who have been failing economically on a shocking scale the past four years. 

A few other points to consider in what has prevented legal retailer’s progress in capturing the legal market:

-The excise tax, or the sin tax, on recreational and medical cannabis discourages people from purchasing legal products.

-The 10 mg THC limit forces patients and consumers to seek out products on the illegal market for the range of doses of THC consumers require.

-Advertising limitations stop customers from learning anything about legal products or retail locations. It also prevents cannabis businesses from sponsoring local events or teams or building brand recognition at all. 

-The lack of consumption spaces connected to retail stores means consumers have no easy opportunity to try a product before buying in bulk. There also are extremely few places to lawfully smoke cannabis due to the rise in anti-smoking regulations in retail and residential areas.  Black market suppliers often insist you smoke some herb before you purchase.

-Restrictions on bulk purchases, delivery, and the provision of a range of products leads consumers to the illegal market.

4.2 What additional steps or measures should the government consider to combat the illegal cannabis market?  

If the legal market was more accessible and relevant to the needs of medical and recreational cannabis consumers, there wouldn’t be as high of a demand for illegal services.  Illegal cannabis businesses exist to meet a gap in the market supply, and if the government is serious about combating illicit cannabis, significant revisions need to be made to the licensing, production and distribution of cannabis to make it more accessible. Most illicit cannabis businesses want to be compliant but can’t due to the red tape and cost. 

Options for combating the illegal market: 

-Drop the excise tax and lower the prices of cannabis across the board. 

-Increase the THC limit in products to 100 mg per serving.

-Make the licensing application for growers, producers, processors and retailers easier and cheaper.

-Permit medical store front sales. 

-Permit local delivery.

-Make the advertising restrictions similar to alcohol for recreational cannabis.

-Encourage the creation of consumption spaces alongside retail stores, farms, hospitals and other medical facilities.

-Increase quantities of products consumers can purchase at once.

Section 5. Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes

5.1 What are your views on the current medical access program for cannabis? 

It has been good for patients to have some access to cannabis, but the restrictions in the regulations and the persistent negative attitude in the medical community have hampered the potential benefits of cannabis and exacerbated the opiate crisis.  

Health Canada must change its approach to cannabis to achieve optimal results from this plant and turn the opioid crisis around. The mail order system is inadequate for the majority of citizens that use cannabis as medicine, especially the poor, elderly and illiterate.

The 10 mg of THC per dose limit on edibles is a slap in the face to patients accustomed to using up to 1,000 mgs per day to fight cancer and chronic pain.

Initially, Health Canada would not allow edibles, claiming that smoking is the only safe and effective means of ingesting cannabis.  After the VCBC bakery was raided, we fought to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015 and won a unanimous decision that forced Health Canada to allow the sale of all forms of cannabis.  When Health Canada finally included regulations for cannabis edibles, they made the THC limit the lowest possible.

In the rush to legalize, the Canadian government considered the sale of alternatives to smoking so unimportant that they would not even allow the sale of any non combustible cannabis products until one year after bud became legal.  The delay, low THC limits, excessive packaging, advertising restrictions and lack of consumption spaces have all hurt both the cannabis industry and consumers, especially patients.  

Jurisdictions like Washington State, Colorado and California have larger THC limits, allowing a package to contain up to 100 mg per unit.  These governments realize that restricting the THC limit at the absolute lowest possible threshold might sound like a safe policy, but the fear of high doses is unfounded.

The 10 mg THC limit also applies to medical products, leaving the majority of patients without the dose they require to alleviate their symptoms.  People in serious chronic pain or cancer patients usually need between 100 mg of THC to 1000 mg of THC per day.  For example, the cookies sold at the VCBC contain 75 mg THC, with many patients eating one whole cookie to go to bed, as well as taking other medicines throughout the day.

The prices being charged for most edible products by LPs is completely disproportionate to the cost of production and are entirely based on generating maximum profit.  For example, the VCBC sells its 75 mg THC cookies for $2.50, a stark comparison to the common price of $12 to $14 per 10 mg cookie that legal stores offer.  Clearly the cost of the THC and the cookie are a fraction of the prices being charged but these firms have built their revenue projections for shareholders upon these exceptionally high prices and unrealistic sales numbers, collectively setting the profit margins on edible products dramatically higher than other items.

By refusing to issue cannabis a Drug Identification Number (D.I.N.), the government has created a situation where cannabis is authorized for use by doctors but not actually prescribed.  Without a D.I.N., doctors can state that there has not been enough research to prove that cannabis is safe to use as medicine, giving Health Canada justification to add the excise tax to medical cannabis.

Unfortunately since the beginning, there has been no attempt by Health Canada to establish storefront locations for patients. Compassion clubs across the country have tried to wrok with the government. Cities like Vancouver and Victoria even began to license medical cannabis businesses as it was evident the ACMPR was inadequate to meet patient needs.

While some of these businesses have transitioned into the legal system, the majority have been forced to close, removing access to high dosage edible products from patients who had relied on these stores to supply their medical needs.  This has led to some patients turning back to opiates, both prescription or illegal street drugs. We know the ongoing unresolved opioid crisis has led to an epidemic of accidental overdose deaths and other chronic medical complications for thousands of patients that could be using cannabis instead.

Cannabis products need to be used to combat the escalating opiate crisis and must become a priority for the government to curb the spiraling death toll. This position is supported by leading researchers from the Canadian Institute of Substance Use Research, most of whom recently signed a letter of support for the VCBC exemption application to Health Canada.  The substance use researchers urge provincial and federal governments to consider cannabis as a tool in the opioid crisis. 

“Collectively, our research supports this approach and it has documented the benefits of cannabis for people who experience chronic pain, the substitution effect of cannabis among people who use unregulated opioids, and its positive impact on retention in medication-based treatment for opioid use disorder.” (Cannabis Digest, Oct 2022

5.2 Is a distinct medical access program necessary to provide individuals with reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes, or can access needs be met through the non-medical framework? Please explain. 

It is inconceivable that Health Canada would even consider removing the medical cannabis program.  That this question is even on the table shows a deep contempt towards patients who use cannabis as medicine.  

If Health Canada tries to remove the medical program, our organization and thousands of Canadians with us, will fight the government in court.  We will not rest until cannabis becomes a prescription drug, fully covered by insurance, and when patients, along with their caregivers, are able to grow their own medicine.  

We do not need war, but if Health Canada tries to remove this program, that is exactly how many citizens will feel.  After all of these years of fighting prohibition, it is sad that people often struggling to stay alive have to continue fighting their government to protect the medicine that their health and wellbeing relies upon. 

How can Health Canada even consider shoveling cancer patients, people in palliative care and children that use cannabis as their primary medicine into the recreational market, which cannot provide any information about the medical uses of cannabis products?

The potential medical benefits of cannabis have been barely tapped into.  Most of the research historically done on cannabis has been focused on possible harms from use, with the vast majority of those studies on inhalation.  The vast array of products that could be made using a massive number of different strains, along with various compounds that can be made with the cannabinoids and terpenes, will take many years to explore for their potential medical uses.

The only questions Health Canada should be asking is how to improve the medical cannabis program, not how to end it. 

5.3 Are there specific reforms that you would recommend?

Health Canada needs to complete the research necessary to give cannabis a D.I.N. so that doctors can prescribe it with confidence that it is a safe and effective medicine.  This may require amendments to the D.I.N. program.

Health Canada needs to create an accreditation program for budtenders specializing in providing cannabis as medicine.  This would be necessary to provide support for medical retail stores that choose to focus on patients rather than recreational stores.

Health Canada should be encouraging and sponsoring pilot projects that investigate various ways cannabis can improve patient’s health, including consumption spaces, educational opportunities, and high dosage edibles, especially as a replacement for opiates and as a primary medicine for patients in palliative care.

In particular, Health Canada urgently needs to embrace the use of cannabis to deal with chronic pain and it should be the first drug used by physicians, not the last.  This should start with pilot projects aimed at understanding how patients using opiates can switch to cannabis products as an alternative and as well a tool during the withdrawal process.  This would require educational programs for both doctors and the public based on the science and anecdotal evidence available to date.

There are many reasons why medical storefronts provide a much better resource for patients than recreational stores.  Compassion clubs focus on products designed for medical uses, educate staff about the various applications of their medicines and provide patients with a friendly space to ask questions without feeling rushed or pushed towards a sale for profit.  Clubs can also open a consumption space, offering patients a relaxing opportunity to use their medicine, meet other people suffering from similar medical problems and learn more about the products available in the facility.

Staff working in medical dispensaries are often patients themselves, giving them personal experience with using the products for various medical ailments.  Since these staff have medical needs they often are the first to try new products, try various vaporizing devices and learn about how others are benefiting from cannabis use in their personal and professional life.  This connection between patients and other patient/caregivers builds a strong bond of trust and companionship that generates a feeling of togetherness that does not normally happen in retail or health care facilities. 

A program educating budtenders on the various medical applications of cannabis would be necessary to have national standards for dispensing cannabis as medicine based on existing research.  This accreditation system would help ensure a broad understanding of the products available to patients is made known to those dispensing it at storefronts across the country.  Patients would greatly benefit from having direct conversations with experts in local facilities and medical retailers would need a clear method to ensure staff are educated in the basics of cannabis medicines.

Patients deserve the best medical cannabis program possible, not one that borders on meeting constitutional standards.  Licensing compassion clubs like the VCBC would drastically improve the medical cannabis program, providing better healthcare without negatively affecting public safety.  Over all of these years of excluding compassion clubs from its programs, Health Canada has never provided a reason for this obvious gap.  

Another pilot project Health Canada should consider is the opening of consumption spaces for patients in hospitals, old age homes and long-term care facilities.  This could provide patients several benefits including a space to be educated about new products, making new friends, and consuming their medicine in a dignified space and manner. 

Most importantly: the excise tax needs to be removed from medical cannabis products. It is immoral, unconstitutional and wrong. 

Section 6. General Comments

6.1 What are your views on the impacts of legalization of cannabis on the environment, small businesses and social and economic impacts on diverse groups of Canadians, in accordance with the Government of Canada’s commitment to implementing Sex- and Gender-Based Analysis Plus (SGBA+)?

Granting licenses to produce five times more cannabis than the market is selling has been an environmental disaster.  Many large facilities have been built that have produced little to no cannabis before being sold off to other agricultural businesses.  Putting all these resources into growing indoor supposedly high-grade cannabis only to have it sit on the shelf for years before being destroyed is an environmental disaster, to say the least.  This waste is clearly the result of the government’s failure to manage this new massive industry.

The government did not consult First Nations communities before legalization, causing confusion, resentment and dissent across the country.  The government should be encouraging First Nations communities to develop their own separate production and distribution systems, with minimal interference from Health Canada.

The government regulations have been counter-productive in the effort to take market share away from the illegal industry. Regulators did not trust those that built the cannabis industry and saw them as criminals. The legal cannabis was preferably placed in the hands of the wealthy elite who had teams of lawyers to navigate the bureaucratic licensing complexity. Large corporations and well off individuals who had the wealth to not depend on their cannabis businesses operating for months on end while waiting for a license.  Few people who built the Canadian legacy cannabis industry are able to participate in the legal market due to the expense and the licensing headache. This policy choice lost a lot of industrial knowledge which is evident now in a legal cannabis industry where small businesses are hemeraging money and barely staying afloat. The result has been male dominated, white washed, mass produced corporations who have been failing economically on a shocking scale the past four years. 

The current system to apply for a grow license also needs to be reviewed.  Small businesses are expected to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and infrastructure for an operation before they even apply for a license.  And when the application is sent and the infrastructure is invested in, the application for a license can still get denied. This model is unduly expensive and inaccessible and a deterrent to participation in the legal market.

The government should have never licensed large-scale commercial production of cannabis, as it has been a disaster for investors, generating far more cannabis than the market can sell and making it very difficult for small-scale producers to compete.  Large LPs were even given a long period of time to develop before smaller licenses were even considered.  

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