Ljubica Kostovic is the director of communications and research at GrowWise Health, which helps patients navigate Canada's medical marijuana program. Two principals of GrowWise Health are also principals of a licensed medical marijuana producer.
The long-awaited police crackdown on dozens of dispensaries in Toronto should be welcome news for patients everywhere.
The majority of the hundred and some dispensaries in Toronto today are nothing more than recreational pot shops.
These recreational pot shops are giving compassion a bad name. They are tainting a very significant movement in Canada's history and they are doing it all under the guise of operating as "medical" marijuana dispensaries.
Still, when someone asks me how I feel about dispensaries and compassion clubs, my answer is: I am grateful.
It is an answer that sometimes catches people off guard given my current role in helping patients navigate the Health Canada medical marijuana system.
I am grateful to the brave social activists who took enormous risks so many years ago and provided true compassionate care to those in need when the government and the public recoiled from the issues that faced them.
I am thankful for the civil disobedience of true compassion clubs, dispensaries and patient advocates who gave us the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) and, eventually, the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR).
Would I feel comfortable getting my medication from a dispensary? Absolutely not. Why? Because I can't take the risk.
The proliferation of recreational pot shops has no doubt been sparked by the impending promise of legalization. The mess of the current dispensary landscape is further complicated by the lack of access, education and health-care provider support that plagues the MMPR system.
The Toronto police crackdown on the city's dispensaries is a step in the right direction toward examining the negative effects these dispensaries have had on patient care.
In the past, compassion clubs and medical dispensaries had been revolutionary in providing access to patients and paving the road for the licensed production of the best pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis available today. Recreational pot shops, disguised as compassionate dispensaries, have not.
Although there may still be a few medically inclined compassion clubs that try to source quality product from MMAR growers exclusively – which, while still very illegal, is at least considerate – the majority of the dispensaries out there today are sourcing product from the black market.
As a fibromyalgia patient, it is crucial for me to know exactly which products, exercises and therapy options work for me. It is vital to every aspect of my being that I know that the medications I am taking are really what the label says they are. It is imperative that I can rely on a product to be of consistently good quality once I have finally found something that can help me heal.
It's not that we have one system over another – a dispensary or a licensed producer. My issue is that, as patients, we are entitled to a system that prioritizes patient patient care. At the moment, Toronto dispensaries are not equipped to provide adequate care to the medical patients using their services.
It has been a long journey learning how to cope with my chronic pain. Learning how to live life to my fullest potential, with pain. Learning how to come to terms with the knowledge that all of my best efforts to cope could easily be thwarted by relying on recreational pot shops to get my medication.
When you are living with a chronic illness, you are living with a constant fear of relapse. You are living in fear that if you don't eat right, sleep well, exercise, stay on top of all your health appointments and medications and mindfully carry yourself through life's ups and downs, you will relapse into a world of unmanageable physical and emotional pain.
I cannot risk my health and well-being by using unpredictable, illegally obtained product that could potentially worsen my symptoms. Nor should I have to worry that my dispensary CBD capsules may actually be filled with very potent THC oil. As a patient, I deserve better. We all deserve better.
As someone who is part of the medical marijuana space in a professional capacity, I know that I am privileged to have access to information that will get me the best services to suit my health needs. As a patient, I know that I am privileged to have the support of my physician and to have access to education resources that many patients do not.
I entered the medical marijuana space with one intent and one intent only: to help patients in any way I could. This piece is my way of trying to start a different kind of conversation about Toronto's dispensaries. I hope we can acknowledge the effects of recreational pot shops on medical marijuana patients and that we can work together to ensure true patient care.
For me, compassion still has meaning.