*Updates to the following regulations will be in effect beginning October 16th, 2018
Depending on where you live in Canada, and with legalization on the horizon, it would be easy to think that storefront medicinal cannabis is already legal. Some cities – like Vancouver and Victoria – have taken measures to license and regulate certain storefronts, (which remain illegal on the federal level), while other dispensaries are open in defiance with hopes of being grandfathered through into the legal market. In many cities now, people can walk into a cannabis dispensary for the first time and walk out with a supply of various cannabis products. They might have to show paperwork proof of a medical condition or it might be as easy as flashing their 19+ ID.
I personally love cannabis dispensaries. It never gets old to me that this plant, persecuted for so many years, now gets beautifully designed retail stores all to itself. The innovation of cannabis products is moving along at a rapid pace and the whole in store experience screams flower and freedom. For me, dispensaries done well, represent a peek into the future of what full legalization could look like in Canada. Whether I’m getting personalized service at The Village Dispensary, enjoying the open space at Aura Health Studio (both in Vancouver), or visiting, what feels like a parallel universe down in Washington State, Oregon or California, cannabis dispensaries are the heart of access and the personal experience many people need when making purchasing decisions about cannabis.
But waving my hand through the clouds of smoke, I’d like to clear the confusion between dispensaries and licensed producers for anyone looking to understand the legalities before making a buying decision either way.
Cannabis storefronts and online dispensaries in Canada are federally illegal until the government announces changes to this in adult use legalization, slated for July 1, 2018. There are no guarantees that they will be permitted in every province. Until further announcements, the process of obtaining legal cannabis in Canada involves buying flower (dried cannabis), oil drops or oil capsules directly from licensed producers (aka “LP’s”). LP’s are companies that the government body Health Canada has approved through the medical cannabis program. To obtain cannabis through this medicinal system, there are a few extra steps you’ll need to take. These include:
1 – Get Prescribed
Get a prescription from a doctor for a gram amount per day
Unfortunately that skype phone call you might have had with a doctor when signing up at a self-regulating cannabis dispensary most likely does not count. Neither does the handful of cannabis dispensary cards in my wallet. We are talking about a legal prescription written out for an exact gram amount per day. When I finally got my legal prescription, I was prescribed and therefore approved, to purchase two grams of cannabis per day through an authorized licensed producer. This decision, made by my doctor, was based on how much cannabis I would need to effectively treat the conditions that I have, and taking into consideration my preference towards trying oil drops and capsules throughout the day. There is a wide range of medical conditions that Health Canada allows prescription for. If you are human there is a reasonable chance that cannabis could benefit you therapeutically.
Speak with a cannabis educated doctor at a cannabis clinic if yours is uninformed
Not keen on the idea of talking to your family doctor about cannabis? You are not alone. I knew that there was no way my family doctor was going to prescribe me cannabis. I’m pretty sure she even covered her ears with her hands when I brought up the topic. She was, however, happy to talk about which pharmaceutical drugs I could work with permanently. I don’t blame her for the system that she is in – western medicine is built on a pharmaceutical foundation. So I reached out to Greenleaf Clinic for an appointment with their team of cannabis consultants and doctors. I was excited to finally talk to a doctor about my situation and how I could optimize cannabis therapeutically. I did need my family doctor to refer me to the clinic. The referral process gave me more anxiety than I had to begin with, but after stating my right to talk to a doctor who was educated on cannabinoids, I was out the door and receiving personalized attention at Greenleaf. Many of these cannabis clinics provide doctors appointments via skype. While some controversially charge a fee for their service, I appreciated being able to talk to a doctor who had taken the time to understand cannabis as a medicine and work to understand my personal needs.
2 – Sign up
Register with one or more licensed producer of your choice
Once your prescribing doctor has determined an amount of cannabis for you to purchase per day they allocate that prescription to a licensed producer, on your behalf. You are able to split your prescription and apply it to different licensed producers but that is something to discuss with your doctor. I had researched the different licensed producers approved by Health Canada and chose to have 1g allocated to Tilray and 1g allocated to Aurora. I would love to try every licenced producer and I can move my prescription but it’s extra paperwork and I am happy with my selections. The doctor or clinic will forward your prescription to the selected licensed producer and you register on that LP’s website. If you are unfamiliar with the licensed producer options a cannabis clinic consultant will help you chose. If your family doctor is prescribing for you, it might make it easier to chose a licensed producer in advance and take the paperwork to the doctor’s appointment with you, having them prescribe it directly on the form.
3 – Order Cannabis
Order online and have it delivered to your door
Once your prescription is received and your registration processed you are clear to legally order from your chosen licensed producer. You must order directly from their website or over the phone and have it shipped to your address. With a 2 gram prescription per day, split between two licensed producers, I am able to order 30 grams per month at each licensed producer and if not used up it does not accumulate month over month.
For me, shopping online with an LP is a fascinating experience as I am able to click on lab reports and understand the active compound profile of each strain or product. Currently licensed producers are being approved to sell flower strains, oil extracts such as oil drops and capsules, and we are starting to see the first topical products come to the legal market (such as our California friends who own Foria Wellness, which is now licensed through Tweed for distribution in Canada). Licensed producer products arrive packaged discreetly and require a signature.
4 – Enjoy Cannabis
Explore cannabis as part of a healthy lifestyle
Cannabis can be part of a healthy lifestyle if you take the time to understand how cannabis is interacting in your body. I focus on microdosing cannabis to find the minimum amount of needed for my intended results. Start low and go slow is always a good idea and there are resources, like Leafly, to help you learn your cannabis 101.
I will never forget the day that I received my first order of legal cannabis. It had my name, patient number and prescribing doctor on all the packaging. I can fly and travel within Canada with my legal medical cannabis as long as I have it in the original packaging. For extra peace of mind, I carry the receipt as proof of legal purchase. Cannabis purchased legally this way is a medical tax expense that I am allowed to deduct annually.
When I held the beautifully packaged cannabis in my hand for the first time, it felt surreal that the government had approved me to have it in my possession, and whether I believe that to be their right or not, it’s progress people.
But if cannabis storefronts are illegal what is the status of all the product in these stores?
It’s confusing I know. Canada has a thriving cannabis grey market that represents, by some reports, around 90% of current consumer purchases. Available in these stores are some of my favourite cannabis topicals products such as my Miss Envy Buddha Bar or Better Made Blends Bath Soak, both of which I like to use for muscles relief after working out.
The grey market is a term used in the cannabis industry to describe the marketplace operating parallel to the regulations. Much of the cannabis sold in storefronts or online in Canada, is legally grown (through a program called ACMPR) and sold onwards without government approval. When you get your legal prescription for cannabis you have the opportunity to continue the paperwork process and apply to grow your own medical cannabis. In this process, you could choose to allocate a designated grower instead of growing it yourself. Some designated growers grow for multiple patients and master the art of growing so they have excess cannabis that they sell onwards to stores. Cannabis extracts from designated growers also end up in the hundreds of differents infused cannabis products such as topical creams or edibles. Many grey market operators have been around for decades, working in the fight against prohibition, helping Canada get to the place where it is now with legalization on the horizon. Many dispensaries started (or still operate as) compassion clubs which connect patients with compromised health to access of affordable cannabis.
Some of these brands or products that we have access to in cannabis stores in Canada might eventually align with a licensed producer and become part of the legal system. The next year is going to prove to be very interesting as enforcement of the new legal system comes down the pipe (puns always intended).
So there you have it. My interpretation of the current cannabis access rules and product status in Canada. It’s my hope to arm you with the knowledge to make your own informed decisions and not to persuade you into one choice or another. I will continue to visit modern and community respecting cannabis storefronts in Canada for products not offered yet in the medical system. I am fortunate to have access to two licensed producers, Tilray & Aurora, from which I order lab tested flower and oil products regularly. All serve different needs for me. For more information on the cannabis stores I frequent check out the cannabis shops in Vancouver I would send my mother to.
Have you tried to access legal cannabis in Canada? Leave your comments below and reach out on Facebook and Instagram, we’d love to hear from you!
Disclosure: The information shared in this post is a personal experience and not to be considered medical or legal advice. Please consult with a health practitioner and seek legal counsel on the cannabis laws in your area.