A medical marijuana company wants to plant seeds in Prince Rupert by opening a clinic by the end of the year.
The Medicinal Cannabis Resource Centre Inc. (MCRCI) has been in business for six years and has clinics in Vancouver, Kamloops, Kelowna and Winnipeg.
A physician-based medical marijuana clinic would be the first of its kind in the city, and will offer its service to surrounding communities including Haida Gwaii and Terrace.
The company set its sights on Prince Rupert after opening the clinic in Winnipeg, said Ron Bell, director of business development for MCRCI.
“We got involved in some of the issues around Indigenous peoples, smaller communities and under-serviced areas,” he said.
When they began to consider northern B.C. as their next site, they found a physician in Prince Rupert who was willing to work with them.
Physicians, or health practitioners, became the gateway to medical marijuana in 2001 when the federal government legalized the bud for patients who received authorization from their doctor. With a “prescription” or form filled out by the physician the patient could grow their own marijuana or access the dried form from Health Canada.
Many physicians have voiced their concern about medical cannabis over the years. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has stated that there is a need for more rigorous research and the organization, with more than 83,000 physician-members, has stated its concerns on the health risks associated with consuming marijuana by smoking the weed.
The Northwest medical health officer for the Northern Health Authority echoed the CMA’s sentiment, but acknowledges the evidence that is available.
“The formal evidence base for medical marijuana is not strong but in some specific areas there is some evidence to suggest that marijuana can have a therapeutic benefit in reducing certain pain conditions,” Dr. Raina Fumerton said.
She added that there is some research that shows cannabis can also help with depression and anxiety but it can also make symptoms worse for some patients
However, in spite of a growing research base, many phsycians lack the education to prescribe the alternative medicine.
As a result, patients have had trouble finding a physician comfortable with “prescribing” medical marijuana, which is where cannabis clinics found their own niche in the business.
Access to medical marijuana continued to get more complicated for patients and doctors in June 2013 when the government changed their policy on medical marijuana and implemented the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR).
Patients who gained access to medical marijuana after the MMPR was introduced were no longer allowed to grow the plant themselves and had to purchase it from a government approved business.
The MMPR created a cannabis industry in Canada where government licensed producers could grow and distribute the product for patients with approval from a health practitioner. Two years later, licensed producers were allowed to sell cannabis oil, buds and leaves as well as the dried form.
In the next three years, 36 licensed producers sprouted up across the country and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to legalize and regulate marijuana in the near future. In Aug. 2016, the government introduced the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) — with most of the laws remaining the same, except patients were given permission to grow their own marijuana once again.
From April 2015-March 2016 there was 8,807kg of dried marijuana sold to clients — up from 2,772kg the year before. As of June 2016 there were 75,166 registered patients with access to medical marijuana.
Cannabis clinics are seeing many of these patients curious about using medical cannabis as an alternative medicine.
“We’ve done this for six years with 6,000 patients,” Bell said. “It takes one-and-a-half hours to two hours to talk to a patient to make sure they understand their involvement with medical cannabis.”
To simplify matters for patients cannabis clinics, such as the Medicinal Cannabis Resource Centre Inc., are finding the need for their service.
There is a cost to join the clinic and for consultations, although Bell said the exact amount hasn’t be determined for Prince Rupert’s location yet.
Support staff at the clinic go through patients’ medical background and a questionnaire. Then they do a pre-consultation before seeing the doctor. The physician then sees the patient who determines if they qualify for a “prescription” to use medical marijuana. If they do, support staff are available for after care.
“Every patient should know what the difference between one licensed producer and another. One strain type to another. What is THC? What is CBD? What is Indica, what is Sativa? There’s lots of questions to be answered,” Bell said.
Physicians who work with MCRCI are trained with other physicians who work for the centre. The physician in Prince Rupert, who Bell said is working with them, has had some experience in prescribing cannabis before but all of their physicians have to go through the centre’s consultation process.
The clinic itself will look like a doctor’s office where the physician will work part-time, one or two mornings a week. The actual product won’t be sold there — it’s not a dispensary.
For patients who get access through the government program they have to order the product through the producer’s website and it will be mailed to them.
MCRCI has already identified a location in Prince Rupert, and Bell said it will be taken care of in the next 30 days.
The Northern Health Authority stance on marijuana is regulation.
“We’re pleased that the federal government is going to be moving forward with legalizing and regulating cannabis,” Dr. Fumerton said. “In that way, the hope is and the plan is to decrease access to folks who are vulnerable, such as youth, and that the product be controlled in terms of what is in it.”