Atlantic Canada struggles with access to medicinal cannabis

Nov 26, 2019

According to an article published in the Western Star, some residents of Atlantic Canada are having difficulty accessing medical cannabis which is required for their treatment. The article describes the struggles of a Nova Scotia patient Lindsay (last name not disclosed for legal reasons), who requires medical cannabis to alleviate the side effects from her monthly cancer treatment.

As a result of her cancer treatment, Lindsay is regularly left with symptoms including pain, aches, nausea, cramps and upset stomach. However, Lindsay’s medical cannabis provider, CannTrust, placed a hold on its products in July when undergoing a review by Health Canada. Subsequently, Health Canada suspended CannTrust’s licence in September. 

“I’m stuck and I know I’m just going to have to work through the pain. Everything is left up to my husband. He’s working 12-hour shifts and then he has to come home and then has to deal with the family on top of everything else and a wife that can’t really do anything.” 

Lindsay, medicinal cannabis user

The process of switching medical cannabis providers can be lengthy since Health Canada requires the patient to obtain a new medical document from their health practitioner. Since Lindsay’s prescription is due to be renewed within the next month, she had said she plans to talk to her doctor about changing providers. 

Lindsay said other pain medication is not a desirable option due to its unwanted side effects. “They gave me pain medication, like morphine or hydromorphone or something along those lines, and then they told me, ‘You’re in pain? Take more. You’ll be fine,’ and that bothered me,” she said. “I didn’t want to be so oblivious to daily activities by being on pills.” 

When Lindsay had first received her prescription for medical cannabis in 2018, she was purchasing cannabis products through an illegal dispensary, since she could not afford products from her medical cannabis provider without insurance covering the costs. However, the police shut down the dispensary, and after that Lindsay had to resort to obtaining her cannabis products from the NSLC.

NSLC spokesperson Beverly Ware told Western Star that customers seeking medical recommendations on products has been one of the biggest problems facing the Crown Corporation since it began selling cannabis in its stores. Although the NSLC was appointed by the provincial government to become Nova Scotia’s recreational cannabis retailer, its employees are not permitted to provide medical advice on its products. According to Ware, individuals seeking medical cannabis should be going through Health Canada, as “it is the only body that can fill a prescription.” 

However, Lindsay has said she has nowhere else to turn. “When I go to the NSLC, it’s self-medication and I know I could be arrested because I have a prescription,” she said. “Every time I go to the NSLC for medical reasons, it’s a risk, but it’s what I have to do. I’m not doing it so I can get high. I’m doing it so I can walk.”