Medical marijuana clinic coming to Sudbury

1297812780709_ORIGINALAn exterior view of a Canadian Cannabis Clinics location that opened in London, Ont. Sudbury will soon be home to a similar clinic. (Craig Glover/Postmedia Network)

Along with the potholes that are emerging this spring will be a new clinic that specializes in medical pot.

Ronan Levy, director of Canadian Cannabis Clinics, said an exact site for the clinic remains to be confirmed, but it will likely be downtown and could be operational in a few weeks.

“We are looking at a few locations,” he said. “We try to position ourselves close to other medical centres because even though the patient is our ultimate customer, so to speak, really the people we need to develop relationships with are the local physicians.”

The goal is to be open within a month, said Levy. “Once we get a location finalized and a lease signed, we can be up and running in a couple of weeks,” he said. “We don’t have any specialized equipment, so getting the doors open can be a quick process.”

The Sudbury clinic will be 13th one in Ontario for the company, which is the country’s largest operator of clinics specializing in medical cannabis.

Levy said the organization has been welcomed in other centres of comparable size to Sudbury, such as Kingston and London, Ont., although there is always some skepticism among the public about a marijuana dispensary that needs to be allayed.

“There is a stigma associated with it, unfair as it may be,” he said. “People still have perceptions about it and we’re doing our best to fight those perceptions and help people understand that cannabis, in this context, is used as medicine, and should be afforded the same respect and deference as any other area of medicine.”

The organization has occasionally experienced resistance from landlords who are “concerned that a cannabis clinic will attract the wrong type of crowd,” he admitted. “But once we’ve set up in locations, even landlords that have been hesitant to lease us space quickly find that there’s nothing about our operation that is at all problematic.”

Patients tend to be “middle-aged or older people” who are genuinely sick, he said. “When you walk by, if you didn’t know it was a cannabis clinic, there would truly be nothing to distinguish our clinic from any other medical clinic.”

Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001, and new regulations implemented in 2014 have made it easier for patients to access the substance for medicinal use.

Doctors can issue medical documents — essentially a prescription — authorizing patients to purchase medical marijuana from one of 29 licensed producers in Canada.

Levy stressed that no marijuana will be kept on the premises of the new clinic planned for Sudbury. Instead, patients who are prescribed a dose will receive the medication through the mail.

And it’s far from case than anyone can just stroll in and sign up for a bag of pot.

“People tend to think that when a cannabis clinic opens, it’s a ticket for legal access to recreational cannabis, but that’s not true at all,” said Levy. “There are no walk-ins, and we put a lot of effort and time into screening a patient.”

Patients will only be seen if they are referred by a physician, or self-refer with a signed consent form that allows the clinic to speak with their doctor and access their medical records.

Levy said ideally, a local physician can be found to work at the clinic, but if that arrangement isn’t possible immediately, the clinic can still go ahead with one of two other arrangements.

“One option is to do locums (temporary physician placements), where even if it’s not a local doctor, that doctor will come and spend a day a week in Sudbury and see a bunch of patients in a row,” said Levy. “Or the other option, which is probably what we’ll start with in Sudbury, is telemedicine.”

In the latter case, the clinic would have a receptionist, a nurse and an international medical graduate, or IMG — someone who is a qualified doctor in another country, but isn’t able to practise here yet — who can perform a basic physical, he said.

“Then the IMG would present the case to the doctor, who will be available through the Ontario telemedicine network, which is kind of like a Ministry of Health-certified version of Skype.”

Levy said he’s confident a local physician can be recruited to work at the clinic — his organization employs 25 doctors already at its various locations — but it’s not always possible to find someone until the clinic itself exists.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario,” he said.

Levy said there is a common misconception that a patient seeking medical marijuana assessment will be charged to access this form of care. “Some did pay a fee initially,” he said. “But we have never charged fees; it’s all covered through OHIP.”

The only out-of-pocket expense for a patient seen through Canadian Cannabis Clinics is for the cannabis itself. “The cost for that is $7 a gram, on average, and the typical prescription is a gram or less a day,” he said. “It’s not like you’re walking out with bags and bags of cannabis.”

The two main components of marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), noted Levy.

The former is what gives people a high, but it can also can ease pain, stimulate an appetite and relieve nausea and spasms.

CBD does not have a psychoactive effect but “has neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-epileptic and anti-psychotic properties,” according to the Canadian Cannabis Clinics website.

Levy said THC is typically capped at 12 per cent when prescribed to patients, and “anecdotally patients seem to find that equal proportions of THC and CBD are effective.”

A patient could receive a grade of marijuana that has a THC content up to 30 per cent, he said, but “generally patients are encouraged to start low, and go slow.”

Patients are also being increasingly encouraged to “vape” medicinal pot rather than smoke it, as you can still inhale the active components through vaporization while avoiding by products of burning plant matter.





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