13015190_10101550623476147_5163387587804857917_nAs I took the first draw on my vaporizer this April 20th, I found myself shaking my head, marvelling at the fact that I am now a user of marijuana for medical purposes.

Having been diagnosed in early 2015 with a rare condition known a desmoid fibromatosis, I underwent a life-saving surgery to fix my bowels, which had burst as a result of a fast growing tumour. Weighing in at 11.34 kilograms (25 pounds), the tumour, while non-metastasizing, had all the markings of cancer and was thus treated like cancer. My recovery is being followed closely by a fantastic team of doctors at the Grand River Cancer Centre.

As I underwent my recovery, I continued to experience significant pain across my abdomen. Unfortunately, the opiates I had been sent home with were leaving me extremely drowsy and groggy, affecting my recovery and potential return to work.

After yet another hospitalization due to unexplained pain, I asked my doctor about medical cannabis. He agreed to refer me on the condition that I report back to him with as many specifics as possible so he could better understand its effectiveness.

After visiting with the local clinic of the Canadian Cannabis Clinic, I was all set to go. I’d selected a licensed producer, one company out of 27 legal providers in Canada, and I was out the door. Online ordering was a breeze, and within days I had my very first draw of medical cannabis.

My licensed producer, Canada’s largest, occupies the former Hershey Factory space in Smith’s Falls, Ont. Tweed Inc. made headlines recently when it announced a five-year partnership with Snoop Dogg, an icon in marijuana subculture.

That sent mixed signals to me, as a medical patient, that Tweed Inc., is perhaps more concerned about the recreational market than the medical market. Already many patients wait months in order to access the strains they need from their licensed producer, which are ordered online and sent by Canada Post.

To my knowledge, the regulations currently prohibit having more than one licensed producer, so when the strain of cannabis that works best for a patient is out of stock or in production, the patient has no choice but to choose another strain, or to wait, without medicine, for the production cycle to end.

Compare these barriers to legal access with the ease of quasi-legal access in major urban centres, where dispensaries are opening up large storefronts. In these set-ups, the marijuana is acquired from legal sources, usually excess production from legally grandfathered personal grow-ops, and sold through shops, which are, themselves, illegal.

Thus an unhealthy competition between licensed producers and dispensaries has taken hold, with medical cannabis patients stuck in the middle. And still the federal government dithers when it comes to introducing legislation that would legalize and regulate the sale of both recreational and medical cannabis, putting an end to this confusing system.

When I was a candidate for the New Democratic Party in 2011, the issue of decriminalization, legalization and regulation of cannabis wasn’t even on the national radar.

Yet, as we saw in the 2015 federal election, both medical and recreational cannabis is high on the list of voter concerns. Both the NDP and the Liberals committed to its full legalization and regulation within the first weeks of the campaign. And on Jan. 8, newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed former Toronto police chief Bill Blair to lead the legalization and regulatory framework.

As a new medical marijuana patient, these varying legal and quasi-legal systems have been confusing. All I want is to access my medicine, when I need it, at an affordable price. I’ve been forced to use a storefront dispensary that had a strain that worked for me, while that same strain was in production at Tweed.

I, for one, would welcome the ability to pick up my medicine discreetly at a convenient Shoppers Drug Mart location, just like I do with all my other painkillers.

In the meantime, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced on last week’s 4/20 — a day sacred to cannabis users — that the Trudeau government would bring legalization and regulation of medical cannabis laws in the spring of 2017. The truth is, for many patients, that’s just too long to wait.

Peter Thurley is principal and chief writing officer at Peter Thurley Communications and Consulting Services based in Kitchener, and was the 2011 federal NDP candidate in Kitchener Centre.


*This article first appeared in the Waterloo Region Record, April 28, 2016