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A University of British Columbia study has found medical marijuana patients are struggling to access cannabis under current regulations and many are turning to the black market. Medical marijuana plants are shown at a medical marijuana facility in Richmond, B.C., on Friday March 21, 2014.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Many medical marijuana patients in Canada are struggling to buy pot under current laws and are turning to the black market, a University of British Columbia study has found.

About one-third of 450 patients reported in a national survey that they could not access marijuana legally under federal rules, said PhD student Rielle Capler.

"They really want to be able to use this medicine legally," she said.

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"They've expressed patience and understanding that there are some growing pains, but in the meantime they're also sharing that it's really impacting … their health and well-being."

The study, led by Ms. Capler and UBC nursing Prof. Lynda Balneaves, looks at the impact of shifting federal regulations on patients. While the results are preliminary, Ms. Capler said many participants reported facing barriers, including cost and supply.

Canadian marijuana patients have faced regulatory upheaval over the past year. The old rules, the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), allowed licence holders to grow pot themselves or find designated growers.

The regulations were to be replaced in April, 2014, by a new program, called the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which requires patients to buy cannabis from commercially licensed producers.

But a court injunction has kept the old program alive for already-enrolled patients, until a constitutional challenge of the new rules could be heard. Advocates are eagerly awaiting a decision in Vancouver's Federal Court.

Only about an eighth of survey respondents are enrolled in the new program, said Ms. Capler.

She said one major issue is affordability, noting the old program allowed patients to grow their own marijuana at a cost of about $2 a gram, compared with purchasing it at about $8 to $10 a gram through the new program.

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Other issues include difficulty getting a doctor's approval in rural areas and inadequate supply from the larger companies that operate under the MMPR.

"People don't want to be breaking the law to get the medicine they need, so patients have expressed a lot of stress and anxiety around potentially having to do that," she said.

Many patients are turning to dispensaries, which are abundant in Vancouver but technically illegal. These dispensaries do require a doctor's confirmation and have standards around quality of supply.

Cannabis company Kaneh Bosm has also announced that it will bring two high-tech marijuana vending machines to Vancouver, though it isn't disclosing where they will be located yet.

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