As legalized recreational cannabis comes closer to reality, activists and patients are reminded that the medical side of the industry can’t be ignored.

Budzilla dispensary operator Rejean Houle said he’s committed to helping patients by staying on the forefront of development. Houle has worked with groups like the Haley Rose Foundation to create products targeted to individual’s needs, such as low-THC, non-psychoactive strains.

Hayley Jade Rose suffers from a rare form of epilepsy knows as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome which causes multiple, severe seizures. Before developing the Haley’s Comet strain with Houle, the teen experienced up to 40 seizures a day that weren’t alleviated by her dozens of prescription pharmaceuticals.

Houle said Rose is now healthy and hopes that the stigma around cannabis can finally end so more patients will receive the treatment they need.

“It’s nice to see people recover, I’ve seen a lot of devastating conditions,” said Houle.

He recalled one patient who had suffered from psoriasis on 40 to 50 per cent of her body for 18 years, with her medical options dwindling.

“They were completely out of solutions by this point,” Houle said. “She was septic, her body was working against her, trying to kill her.”

Desperate and out of solutions, the patient turned to Houle who guided her to a combination THC and CBD topical cream. Within three months, she was healed.

Houle said he was happy to help, but frustrated that it had to get to that point for the patient before he was able to.

“If this treatment had been medically available, she wouldn’t have had to fight this 18 year battle,” Houle said.

When other dispensaries have patients look for help they often direct them to Houle.

“I see a lot of  terminal cases — people that have no hope,” he said. “A lot of dispensaries will refer me their tougher cases because we create a lot of our own products so we know a lot of the science behind it.”

Houle said Budzilla is one of the few independent dispensaries developing their own products targeted to unique medical issues. Haley’s comet came as a result of ongoing epileptic clinical trials to see which types of seizures CBD oils can prevent.

“Budzilla has always been focused on innovation,” Houle said. “What we want to do is be on the bleeding edge of development.”

For many patients, inhalation of cannabis isn’t an option – when a seizure is triggered, CBD rich capsules are better suited for use. But Houle said CBD strains are sometimes difficult to come by in an industry that is largely moving toward a recreational focus.

“Because it’s a different kind of high, a lot of people aren’t interested in growing CBD plants,” House said. “They’re highly sought after but only by the people that need them. So unless the growers are specifically epileptic they wouldn’t grow very high CBD strains.”

Government licensed producers, tasked by Health Canada as the sole legal means for patients to access cannabis products, aren’t meeting expectations.

“When it comes to oils they’re capped off on 3 per cent THC, which is extremely ridiculous — you’re barely getting any benefit from that,” Houle said, explaining that due to the processes and solvents used by the licensed producers, CBD content is also reduced to negligible levels, usually less than .01 per cent.

“When you’re on the LP side, you’re not getting the holistic approach, you’re not letting the chemicals mature to where they’re supposed to be,” Houle said.

Comparatively, Haley’s Comet contains a THC/CBD ratio of 1:1 ratio – 15 per cent of each active ingredient.

“[Patients] would rather utilize the dispensary because they’re seeing this is more effective than trying to rely on the black market or the LPs who don’t provide anything close to this CBD content,” Houle said.

British Columbia’s cannabis community has done its own research regarding specific strains and conditions, compared to what Houle called the licensed producers’ “blanket approach” which he said isn’t an appropriate choice when every person’s condition and body is different.

“LPs are in it for pure profit. You can see from a cannabis connoisseur’s perspective that there’s a ton of ignorance,” Houle said.

Houle worries about a future where licensed producers are allowed by the federal government to flip from their intended medical focus to supply recreational cannabis, as part of the Liberals’ promise to legalize the plant, and medical patients being left without resources.

“Imagine all the licence producers are recreational and there’s no medical research being done, whatsoever — and that’s possible.” Houle said. “There’s no rules or regulations saying ‘you need to do a minimum amount of research.’”

Houle said Canadians need to take a stand and recognize the benefit of established, independent resources for medical patients.

“Realize how important dispensaries are to our community,” Houle asked. “Let’s get past this reefer madness, it’s enough already.”