Since the legalization of cannabis in Canada on October 17th, 2018, there has been better access to the recreational/adult use market. However, legalization has done very little to improve access for patients, since they are still unable to fairly or easily access medicinal cannabis to treat diseases and manage pain. Although it was expected that legalization would naturally come with many problems as the government adjusts to issues of supply and demand, it is nonetheless unconstitutional for those in need of medical care and relief to suffer due to lack of access.

Medicinal My Way (MMW) believes that there are currently many unnecessary and unfair barriers to access. These barriers must be acknowledged and dealt with at a community and government level in order for medicinal cannabis to benefit all.

One of the foremost barriers to accessing medical cannabis is a lack of financial resources. This lack also negatively affects access to transportation, technology, and community resources.

Since cannabis was legalized in Canada, patients are forced to acquire medicinal cannabis through the government’s mail order system. This has caused numerous problems for access; not all patients can reasonably access or even use this online ordering system if they don’t have access to a computer or the internet. While there are free-to-use computers at many local libraries, many patients may not have the means to transport themselves to the library, and they might not have the required technological literacy to navigate the still-new mail order system.

Accessing the online mail order system also requires a bank account, a credit card, and enough funds to meet minimum purchasing amounts. This can be due to lack of funds, and/or a lack of coverage through traditional benefits providers such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Veterans Affairs Canada. Since licensed producers set their own pricing policies, the average costs of obtaining medicinal cannabis may not be consistent or applicable to compassionate pricing.

The online ordering system will also not allow a patient to physically examine the products or have the products explained to them by an actual person. Patients may also urgently need medicinal cannabis in specific amounts, which an online system may not be able to accommodate in the same timely fashion as a brick-and-mortar dispensary.

It also stands to reason that the current online ordering system shuts out vulnerable patients who may not have a fixed home address (to receive the shipments of medicinal cannabis) due to housing issues or being homeless – such patients may also not have a fixed address because they are hospitalized, in a nursing home, or receiving hospice care.  

None of these factors constitute a provision of reasonable access, which is why MMW has various solutions which if implemented, will remedy such problems. While MMW is not advocating for getting rid of the mail order system; a more efficient and patient-friendly approach is needed. This means that until the mail order system improves, the existing infrastructure must be supplemented with storefronts and dispensaries.

Dispensaries have numerous benefits: they provide reasonable access, and more patient-oriented personalized care and support. Patients who are not technologically literate can physically access the building and view their options. Patients can also see and smell their medicine, only making a purchase after consulting medical cannabis professionals who can explain the different strains and ranges of products. This is especially important because different strains of cannabis will have different effects on the individual.

While an online website may contain all this knowledge, it cannot boast the same experience and interpersonal patient consideration that face-to-face interaction encourages. Dispensaries also may not have the same financial requirements as a faceless online ordering system; patients can pay with debit or cash, pick up purchases in person regardless of their living situation, and they may not be restricted by minimum purchase amounts. Employees manning the storefronts will also be available to help with any potential difficulties regarding technology or purchasing.

MMW strongly believes that person-to-person communication is essential for providing essential health services to patients in need. Medicine should be about compassionate care, which means providing all patients regardless of financial or living situation a fair chance to access medicine that they need to not only survive but to thrive. While there is now definitely legal access to medicinal cannabis, it can only be truly effective when it is available to all.