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Medical marijuana changes — doctors say they've be put in a tough spot

Doctors say Health Canada’s new system for medical marijuana puts physicians in the position of being gatekeepers. - NEWS FILE PHOTO
Doctors say Health Canada’s new system for medical marijuana puts physicians in the position of being gatekeepers.
— image credit: NEWS FILE PHOTO

Changing medical marijuana regulations have left users in a smoky state of mind and doctors fuming with rage.

Initially, new Health Canada legislation was supposed to put an end to home grown pot productions directing nearly 40,000 medical marijuana users to buy their green from large-scale commercial operations with a prescription-like document from their doctor.

But a last minute federal court injunction March 21 halted Health Canada’s plan providing temporary reprieve to users — many of whom feared they wouldn’t be able to afford the new system. Health Canada responded by issuing a news release stating they intend on appealing the court’s order.

However, amidst the haze of political gridlock between the federal government, federal court and licence-holding medical marijuana users at least one thing is clear: British Columbian physicians are outraged.

“It completely shifts the onus of liability (on physicians),” Doctors of B.C. president-elect Bill Cavers told The NEWS in a phone interview recently from Victoria.

“We’re being dumped in the middle of this expedite.”

Cavers said under the old system patients applied to the medical marijuana program through Health Canada with a signature from their doctor to acknowledge they knew the patient was using pot for medical purposes.

“The new regulations are totally different,” said Cavers, explaining the changes would see doctors essentially become “gatekeepers” of medical marijuana while Health Canada’s role becomes more obsolete.

“Physicians are now being asked to provide a medication (marijuana) with no support or training,” said Cavers, adding Health Canada has not conducted any studies validating the use of medical pot. “Every other prescription drug has to go through rigorous testing from Health Canada (before it’s available to patients), why is marijuana exempt from that?”

Cavers said regardless of his personal opinions on pot, “if it’s going to be a medical product there should be the same due diligence to it that is applied to every other prescription drug.”

He is calling for guidelines from Health Canada.

“We (physicians) want more evaluation on medical marijuana as a treatment for conditions: when it should be used, when it shouldn’t be used, dosage and long term effects.”

Cavers said physicians represent high quality patient care.

“We want to do our patients well, we want people to get the treatment they need, we want to keep people safe and we are not being given the tools we need to make those decisions,” he said. “Actual data is woefully absent.”

When asked how he sees the future of medical marijuana, Cavers didn’t sound optimistic.

“The net result will be a reduction in access to this product because physicians will be reluctant to take on the liability,” he said. “It’s a free for all right now and physicians are smack in the middle of a debate.”

Dana Larsen, director of Sensible B.C. said the new regulations put doctors in an “awkward” position.

“A lot of doctors don’t want to get involved,” said Larsen. “They don’t necessarily want to become “the pot doctor” and moreover doctors don’t prescribe plants —it’s just not what they do.”

As a result, Larsen said he is seeing a lot of “profiteering” pop up through clinics specializing in access to marijuana such as the web-based Do No Harm Clinic.

Do No Harm Clinic’s webpage states: “Even if your own physician is uncomfortable with Medical Marijuana, we can still help. A referral is not required.” Larsen said clinics like this are “profitable as they are allowed to charge an administrative fee.” Do No Harm Clinic charges $35 per month.  “I recommend this website to people who ask me for options,” said Larsen. “It can be great for some people but extremely costly for others.”

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