Just call him the cannabis counsellor

For years, Michael Dobson has navigated the smoky waters of Canada's medical marijuana system.

For years, Michael Dobson has navigated the smoky waters of Canada’s medical marijuana system.

The 30-year-old Yukoner suffers from grand mal epileptic seizures, which can feature a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

Grand mal seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Dobson smokes medical marijuana with high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, to help slow down the synapses in his brain.

It used to be a lot simpler for Dobson to get access to the drug that makes his life more tolerable.

Canadians have had the right to access medical marijuana with the support of their physicians since 2001.

Under the old system, called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, individuals like Dobson had three options to get their hands on a legal supply of the drug.

They could apply to access Health Canada’s supply, apply for a personal-use production licence or outsource the production to a third party.

Dobson, a medical marijuana patient since 2007, used to grow his own in Pelly Crossing.

On average it would cost him $40 to grow one ounce, or about $1.42 per gram, not including electricity.

But as of April 1, 2014, the Harper government repealed the old regulations and introduced its own, called The Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.

In a letter to medical marijuana clients, a spokesperson for Health Canada’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis explained the old system was “widely open to abuse” and that home production presented fire and toxic mould hazards.

The only way to access medical marijuana today is through Health Canada and its licenced producers, of which there are 30 across the country but none in the territories.

The prices vary between $5 and $15 per gram but some producers charge as much as $20, Dobson said.

The limit on how much marijuana a person could get per month was also decreased to 150 grams, down from 900.

Dobson said he needs about 90 grams per month but knows people who need a lot more, making it too expensive for them to afford.

Patients are also required to go through a physician to obtain a “prescription,” which is then taken to a producer.

These days, Dobson is offering advice through his Facebook page, the Yukon Medical Cannabis Association, to people who want to approach their doctors about obtaining medical marijuana.

One big obstacle is that most doctors in the territory, the gatekeepers of the drug, aren’t sympathetic to it, Dobson said.

“A lot of people come back to me and say that,” he said.

“I’m trying to open doors and counsel people on how to speak to their doctors about it. There are quite a few people (in the Yukon) who can benefit from medical marijuana.

“To be able to speak to a doctor about it, however, you really need to be prepared.”

Dobson, talking about his own experiences, said he had to explain to his doctor how much he was using, what strain of marijuana it was and its potency, among many other things.

“You have to have your bases covered so that you can have an open discussion with your doctor.”

Last month, a federal court judge ruled that sick Canadians have the right to grow their own medical marijuana, striking down the ban that was introduced two years ago.

The decision forces the federal government to rewrite the rules for medical pot. Last week, Ottawa announced that it wasn’t going to appeal the decision, and would come up with new regulations by the end of the summer.

Commercial producers ship dried marijuana and, more recently, cannabis oils to roughly 30,000 patients in Canada, according to an article in the Globe and Mail last month.

The same article states a recent Health Canada survey found there are roughly 500,000 medical cannabis users in Canada over the age of 25, most of whom are not purchasing from licenced commercial producers.

Dobson is hoping he’ll be able to grow his own once again in the near future.

He said the marijuana he has received from producers in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta isn’t usually very good.

“Their prices are OK but the quality isn’t the best,” he said.

“It isn’t strong enough and at times, it tastes mouldy. By the time it arrives in the Yukon its moisture content has gone down to almost nothing and its medicinal properties have also gone down.”

Dobson, as well as a few others, have tried unsuccessfully to open dispensaries in the Yukon over the years.

He said he’s optimistic about that happening in the future, given the Trudeau government’s promise to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana.

But he’d like the conversation to shift away from the government’s agencies and towards “the people on the ground.”

In February, a Liberal Senate forum on the legalization of marijuana featured a panel made up of senior policy advisors, physicians, lawyers and representatives from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

“It was very unconducive to the legalization movement,” Dobson said.

“We’re the ones that get to deal with this on a daily basis. We get the benefits of this right away.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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