By the end of September 2016, nearly 100,000 Canadians had obtained prescriptions and registered to buy cannabis with one of the growers licensed by Health Canada, a dramatic leap from the 23,930 people that were registered as of June 2015. Currently, in Sault Ste. Marie, it is estimated that 1500 individuals possess prescriptions for cannabis.
In 2008 Drew Craig, tore his ACL while playing football for the Sault Steelers. Admitting that he was a recreational user of marijuana, Craig found cannabis to be a preferential way to manage acute and chronic pain caused by his injury. “I knew people that were taking opioids and I didn’t want to go down that road,” remarked Craig.
A few years ago Craig was diagnosed with a condition of anxiety and after speaking with his family he chose to reject conventional pharmaceuticals to manage his situation.
“I didn’t want to take a pill, a mind-altering drug. I don’t need my chemical balance messed up by pills that might cure anxiety or cure depression or whatever else it might do. I’ll stick with plants.”
Knowing that he wanted to continue to manage physical pain, and when necessary his anxiety, by self-medicating with marijuana but not wanting to unlawfully offend, Craig pursued a prescription for cannabis.
In 2014, unable to find a local doctor who would prescribe, Craig acquired his prescription through Skype consultations with Bodystream Medical Marijuana Services in Barrie Ontario. Bodystream is an OHIP-based, privately owned clinic that works within provincial regulations assisting individuals who seek to acquire prescriptions for medical marijuana and connects patients to provincially approved licensed producers of cannabis. There are 15 Bodystream clinics in Ontario, one of which opened in Sault Ste. Marie in 2016.
At the end of the third quarter in 2016 Health Canada reported that 4,773 kg. of dried cannabis and 2,2420 kg. of cannabis oil was sold by Licensed Producers to clients. Medical marijuana is commonly used to treat pain, inflammation, headaches, neuropathic pain, muscle soreness, spinal injury, fibromyalgia, cramps and more recently, mental health conditions.
Having worked with various cannabis clinics as well as a firsthand experience to the effects of cannabis in coping with his health and physical challenges, Craig was motivated to launch an online company –Ginger Ganja. His specialty- Ganjagars and consulting services. “Not everyone has the minute understanding of cannabis, medical cannabis and the positive effects as I do but it’s a great sense of pride and humility being able to share what I know about it and have them tell me afterwards how much their life has changed.”
Craig is not licensed under Health Canada. Under valid Health Canada commercial licensing, it would be legal to produce, distribute and sell cannabis online and mail the product directly to customers. “We’re not selling our product at this time,” remarked Craig.
However, online dispensaries, and storefront dispensaries which are illegal under federal law period, are popping up all across Canada since Prime Minister Trudeau took office.
Trudeau’s Liberals bolstered their platform with a promise to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana, in part to prevent marijuana use by minors and as a measure to remove profits from criminals.
However, the current government isn’t rushing a commitment on marijuana reform and Canada’s Department of Justice advises, “A Task Force engaged with provinces, territories, key stakeholders and other Canadians to inform the design of a system of strict cannabis production, distribution and sales. In the spring of 2017, the Government of Canada will propose to Parliament and Canadians a new legislative framework for the legalization of cannabis.”
In their final report, the Task Force provided, among plentiful recommendations, that the federal government:
- Set a national minimum age of purchase of 18, acknowledging the right of provinces and territories to harmonize it with their minimum age of purchase of alcohol
- Apply comprehensive restrictions to the advertising and promotion of cannabis and related merchandise by any means, including sponsorship, endorsements and branding, similar to the restrictions on promotion of tobacco products
- Allow limited promotion in areas accessible by adults, similar to those restrictions under the Tobacco Act
- Prohibit any product deemed to be “appealing to children,” including products that resemble or mimic familiar food items, are packaged to look like candy, or packaged in bright colours or with cartoon characters or other pictures or images that would appeal to children
- Additionally, for edibles: Implement packaging with standardized, single servings, with a universal THC symbol; and set a maximum amount of THC per serving and per product
- Prohibit mixed products, for example cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages or cannabis products with tobacco, nicotine or caffeine
For now, cannabis remains a Schedule II Drug under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act and subject to offence under that Act. In other words, possessing, selling and growing cannabis outside of medical regulations is an offence in Canada.
The Canadian government has provided that it may be late 2018 or early 2019 that the market will open for recreational cannabis use. The Prime Minister has encouraged police to enforce the law until that time, stating in an interview with The Star, “We haven’t changed the laws. We haven’t legalized it yet. Yes we, got a clear mandate to do that. We’ve said we will. We’ve said we’re going to do it to protect our kids and to keep the money out of the pockets of criminals… I don’t know how much clearer we can be that we’re not legalizing marijuana to please recreational users.”
Since Prime Minister Trudeau took office some estimates provided that almost 60,000 arrests have been made for pot possession in Canada. Recent news reports highlights police raids of storefront dispensaries across the country. On March 8th, prominent marijuana advocates, Marc and Jodie Emery were arrested and there seven storefront cannabis dispensaries raided.
But some eager cannabis entrepreneurs not willing to wait for the government to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, manage to operate their storefronts and online businesses outside of the current law. Some suggest that it may be as simple as the possibility that some police forces just haven’t prioritized the issue as a pressing one, perhaps due to the inevitability of the legalization of the plant or that more police manpower is better expended on the deadly opioid crisis spread across this country.
A recent report issued by Sault Police Services indicated that in the span of a few hours, 3 overdoses, heroin suspected, were reported by the Sault Area Hospital. This past December the Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Strategy Committee reported that drug overdoses in the Sault have reached epidemic proportion due in part to a significant presence of crystal meth and synthetic fentanyl in the community.
Although more research is required some studies suggest that cannabis can be effective in treating “opioid withdrawal symptoms and heroin-seeking behaviour.” More so, the prescribing of highly addictive opioids can be avoided altogether as cannabis to treat physical and mental ailments becomes more accepted by the medical community, and destigmatized in society-perhaps through legalization.
“If scientists had discovered this plant today it would be considered a miracle drug,” remarked Craig. “I’m not going to sit around while they are going to enforce unjust laws and unjust practices. I’m tired of it.”
Of his frustration with the government’s slow move to legalize cannabis he added, “I’ve heard they might want to drag this over to the next election and I laughed thinking that Trudeau will only be a one term Prime Minister if that happens. The cannabis vote isn’t as naïve as the gun registry voters and we’re not going to be strung along from election to election on a broken promise. We’re not that dumb. Our numbers in the registered medical cannabis program is growing and we’re not a tiny voice anymore. They can’t keep us quiet.”
Craig’s forward momentum with his business has hit a snag. After meeting with several financial institutions Craig has been unsuccessful in finding a bank that will take his business on as client. Until Craig can acquire a business bank account he cannot apply for Health Canada licensing. “I want to do this legitimately. I’m almost forced to run underground and not charge taxes. If I end up charging taxes then I’m going to run a business through a personal bank account. So I’m in limbo now.”
In the meantime, Craig is hoping to address his banking debacle with local MP Terry Sheehan in the upcoming week.
(feature image: Drew Craig with his Ganjagars- all within the amount he is medically prescribed to carry)