Is it too easy to get medical marijuana in Nelson?

Nelson doctor concerned that six local pot dispensaries are regulating themselves.

Dr. Joel Kailia is one of the Nelson physicians who writes medical marijuana prescriptions for patients.

Dr. Joel Kailia is one of the Nelson physicians who writes medical marijuana prescriptions for patients.

First you need a doctor’s note.

To purchase cannabis in Nelson at one of the six dispensaries currently existing downtown, you have to provide this documentation to start the process of becoming a member. That note needs to either confirm a medical diagnosis or recommend cannabis to treat it.

It doesn’t have to be a prescription.

In the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club, which has been run by Phil McMillan since 1999, they provide an example of how the note could read to satisfy their requirements.

“John Smith suffers chronic pain due to herniated disc and has advised me he uses cannabis to treat his condition,” reads the example, which also notes it doesn’t have to be a recommendation or prescription, and has no legal ramifications for the doctor.

Jim Leslie of the Kootenay’s Medicine Tree provided a list of types of physicians deemed appropriate for providing notes: “a licensed and practicing physician, a nurse practitioner, a naturopathic physician or a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine.”

But the rules differ. The Star reached out to all six dispensaries and solicited their admission requirements, and they vary slightly from one operation to the next. But there are a few areas of consensus: they don’t sell to individuals under the age of 18, and none of them provide cannabis for recreational use.

Once you’ve handed over your doctor’s note, some of the dispensaries will issue member cards that are transferable outside the city. Cannaclinic and the Green Room Society both have locations in multiple cities, such as Victoria and Vancouver, and keep databases of their members.

If you’re too nervous or shy to go through the sign-up process in person, the Nelson Potorium and Leaf Cross Health both allow you to sign up online and upload your doctor’s note as a PDF as part of your member profile. They will then ship the products by mail, to locations across the country.

In other words: it’s extremely easy to get marijuana in Nelson, and bound to get easier. And that could be a problem according to local doctor Joel Kailia.

“People are getting prescriptions without the full discussion of the risks and benefits,” he told the Star. “And there’s certainly a danger to that, because this isn’t a benign medication. There’s a number of potential side effects.”

He thinks some of the practices being used, such as having doctors meet with clients via Skype, should be discontinued. But it’s hard to know where to draw the line in this legal grey area, which is why he keeps track of the latest legal developments via a blog community called Prescribers of Medical Cannabis.

“Another thing is there’s a lack of communication back and forth. If I write a note prescribing a two-gram-a-day dose of low THC cannabis, who’s to say they’re not going and buying whatever they want? And how am I supposed to know if the medication is working the way it should?”

So he doesn’t have any way to distinguish between who is using for recreational or medicinal purposes, or to keep track of their consumption. But the majority of the people he sees are seniors, many of them looking for alternatives to opiate medications.

“These are people who don’t feel comfortable getting it from their neighbours or their cousin’s brother. All they want is information and they want access.”

But he’s concerned about the advice they might be receiving locally.

“My impression is that the people at dispensaries are giving advice outside their scope of practice, saying this is good for this when really, what’s your evidence? Are you basing that on your own studies or your own experiences or is it just something that someone told you?”

He doubts the medical advice being dispensed is science-based. But he also acknowledges that recreational marijuana could be legalized within months, further complicating the issue.

“It is difficult to classify ourselves as ‘recreational’ or ‘medicinal’ at this point, since the service we are offering is not currently recognized as either, just illegal,” said Nelson Potorium’s Kaleigh Herald, adding that regardless they’re following “all the procedures necessary to ensure all our members do in fact have a medical use for cannabis.”

And for some local dispensaries, that means providing access to local physicians and even having doctors to meet with clients on-site. Leaf Cross Health on Baker St. and Cannaclinic have separate rooms for this express purpose, and the consultations there can last anywhere from five minutes to half an hour.

And the Green Room Society’s website encourages members to educate themselves.

“The Green Room encourages you to learn more about the natural therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana from certified health professionals who not only understand and appreciate the positive effects of alternative medicine to alleviate your pain but who are setting the Canadian standards for the ethical and responsible use of this drug treatment,” it reads.

The local dispensaries often cite the Supreme Court case Allard vs. Canada in which medical marijuana patients won the right to grow their own cannabis.

“What it did was bring forth and confirm that all Canadian citizens have the right to reasonable access to medical attention and medicine, including cannabis,” said Herald.