In pursuit of prescription pot

When doctors told Lee Goodwin he had between three to five years left to live, he says he decided to dedicate the remainder of his life to easing the suffering of others. 

When doctors told Lee Goodwin he had between three to five years left to live, he says he decided to dedicate the remainder of his life to easing the suffering of others.

Last year Goodwin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When he went in for surgery, it was worse than his original scans had suggested. The blow came at the end of almost five years of medical hardship, and the only thing Goodwin could find to help ease his own pain was medical marijuana.

It started in 2007, when he broke his back in a car accident. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors told him there was a 70 per cent chance he’d never walk again.

Doctors prescribed him 11 different pain meds, including high amounts of morphine and other potentially addictive drugs. After surgery and two years of physiotherapy, he was walking again, but he had numerous complications and was plagued by chronic pain.

The pharmaceuticals started to worry Goodwin, but he took them so he could function and work on rebuilding a fledgling landscaping business.

Then, in 2011, he had another car crash. This time he was hit from behind by a speeding driver, and suffered severe head trauma and whiplash, which only exacerbated his chronic pain issues. Doctors prescribed more meds.

Before the second crash, Goodwin had tried using marijuana as an alternative to pharmaceuticals. It worked, but he couldn’t find a doctor to sign a prescription for him.

“The day I ate my first pot brownie, I didn’t have to take any pain killers,” he said.

After the second crash, he started again to pursue a prescription for medical pot, and eventually found a doctor who would sign one for him. Since going on medical pot full time, he has done away with his entire Halloween-bag of prescribed pills.

Even now, back to almost 98 per cent mobility, it hasn’t been an easy go of things. Goodwin still struggles with memory loss, a result of the brain injury he sustained in the second car crash. It makes holding down a full-time job almost impossible. To get by, he makes audio recordings of important things with his cell phone and transcribes them all at the end of the day before bed.

He has osteoarthritis and chronic pain in his back, neck and jaw from his old injuries.

He’s been on social assistance since his bank accounts were emptied paying for all the medical bills and prescription drugs.

“The only relief I’ve ever had was from medical marijuana,” he said.

Now, Goodwin wants to make sure that no one else suffers the way he did while fighting to get a prescription for the drug that makes his day-to-day life possible.

“It took me three years and 11 different doctors before I could get a prescription. I don’t want to see anyone in my position suffer any longer than they have to,” Goodwin said.

While his medical history reads like a complicated series of misfortunes, his plan going forward is relatively simple.

There are currently no doctors in the Yukon who will prescribe medical pot. Goodwin gets his prescription through a Dr. Peter Gooch, who runs a clinic in Victoria, B.C. Goodwin approached Dr. Gooch about getting prescriptions for other Yukoners as well, and the two worked out a system where Goodwin acts as an intermediary.

With his self-taught expertise in navigating Health Canada bureaucracy, Goodwin helps potential patients collect the right medical history forms, reviews them himself and then sends them on to Dr. Gooch in Victoria. Dr. Gooch also looks them over, and if the history supports a prescription for pot, he arranges a Skype interview with the patient and Goodwin. After discussing the merits and risks face-to-face with the patient, Gooch signs the paperwork and mails it back to the Yukon.

Dr. Gooch charges $400 for the service. Goodwin’s contribution is free, a public service, he says, because many people in need of medical pot are – like him – in serious financial hardship already.

Earlier this month, medical pot got suddenly far more complicated in Canada.

As of April 1, anyone with a prescription must buy their drugs from a licensed producer. Under the new rules, growing your own pot is also now banned, but a court injuction filed in B.C. grants personal-use growers with a license the ability to keep growing on an interim basis while the issue is fought out in the courts.

But here’s the catch: there aren’t any licensed producers in the Yukon, which means that – without Goodwin – anyone who wants to buy medical marijuana has to go through illegal street dealers or, if they can, keep growing their own.

Further muddying the waters, the government itself was, until now, the only legal grower and distributor of medicinal marijuana. Under the new laws, private government-sanctioned dispensaries can legally grow and sell pot to prescription holders. But there are no dispensaries in the Yukon, and so far only 12 have been approved across the country.

As well as operating as a go-between for Dr. Gooch and patients in the Yukon, Goodwin also connects clients with B.C.-based dispensaries to order their pot from. Patients can order through the mail from a long menu of items including brownies, oils, pre-rolled joints and dried buds.

The dispensaries are cheaper than the street price – about $7.50 per gram from a licensed outlet. Whitehorse street prices range between $10 and $15 per gram. In the communities it can reach as high as $25 per gram.

Dispensary pot is also higher quality than what’s sold on the street, said Goodwin. He reckons street pot in Whitehorse tends to be between 18 and 20 per cent THC (the psychoactive agent). Dispensary pot is around 30 per cent.

“The street stuff is also scary,” Goodwin said. “You have no idea what’s in it, how it was grown. It could be laced with anything from cocaine to pesticide.”

So far Goodwin has helped 36 Yukoners get prescriptions for weed. It’s a decent system, but Goodwin wants to go bigger. He’s applied for a licence to start his own pot dispensary in Whitehorse and almost everything is in place.

“I passed the security checks, I passed the business plan, and the only thing stopping me is a location. There’s a lot of distrust of the industry. Landlords don’t want to rent to someone who’s growing pot, and I can’t afford to buy a space,” Goodwin said.

“My financial situation isn’t going to change anytime soon. I can’t qualify for a loan because of my past history on social assistance. I need to find someone with land or an office space that would be willing to lease-to-own,” he said.

If he is able to find space, Goodwin’s vision is grand. He wants to have a clinic and dispensary located together, but he also foresees the place as a hub, connecting patients to other non-pharmaceutical treatments like homeopathy, massage therapy, and more.

In the meantime, Goodwin is taking his services on the road, touring Yukon communities starting next week. He plans to hit Dawson City first, setting up an information booth, doing outreach, and answering questions about medical pot and prescriptions.

 

Correction

A previous version of this story incorrectly described Health Canada’s new prescription marijuana laws. Under the new laws, patients holding a prescription to possess marijuana must purchase their pot from a federally-licensed producer.

Users with a license to grow their own marijuana may continue to do so on an interim basis under a court injuction. Prescription holders may not purchase marijuana from an unlicensed source without breaking the law themselves.

The News regrets any confusion this error may have caused.

 

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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