Like many, I started my career in the cannabis industry illegally. And when faced with the moral dilemma of choosing between what is just or the law, it becomes a question of risks. Do you risk your personal freedom so that others can access the medicine they need or do you stay safe while those people suffer? It’s a tough question that you shouldn’t have to ask yourself in this day and age. But for those working at a medical compassion club, it’s just a part of going to work every day. 

Personally, I can’t ignore what is happening to the weakest among us because I have been there. Come hell or high water, I will stand with the patients until all their needs are met…but that is my life and my decision. I don’t have children or a uterus to make them; whatever consequences might come because of my work will affect me alone. It is not for me to judge anyone else’s situation or the choices they make and remembering that helps me find a way to connect with someone, even if I am not supposed to.

When Two Friendly Foes Find Common Ground - A  Lift & Co. Conference Conversation

This weekend, I went to Lift & Co. Cannabis Business Conference – a show geared toward the legal cannabis industry. I went to educate myself on the comings and goings of the licensed market, see how different it was from my world, and write about what I learned. But, something happened that I did not expect… I connected with a sales manager for a licensed producer, whose identity is not important for this editorial, and found common ground. I told him what I do and he agreed to talk to me off the record, and so, a short while later, we sat down for almost an hour and put a few puzzle pieces together. It was an enlightening experience for both of us, and this is what we learned from each other:

Legal prices are based on the return of investment

Licensed producers don’t like the prices they have to sell their products and this guy wasn’t quiet about that. When I asked him how they come up with it, he told me that it is the fault of the illegal market. That these prices are to pay for the money that is budgeted to shut it down. I was visibly sick, and so he elaborated.

When Two Friendly Foes Find Common Ground - A  Lift & Co. Conference Conversation

The government invested a great deal of taxpayer money into legalizing this industry and they expected a much faster rate of return. Thanks to a number of stupid regulations, Canadians don’t want to buy cannabis the way that our government wants to sell it. If it was way cheaper and easier to access, more and more people would shop in the legal market. But Instead of relaxing the prices and easing up on the intensity of the law, Canada wants their money back, today. And so the stipulation is drawn forth – if you want to be legal, you have to play along.

Compassion clubs pay taxes

The conversation about price revealed another misconception he had, that the grey market doesn’t pay taxes. This conversation came about when I expressed my frustration with the system. I brought up a recent example I had seen, in which a legal store was selling a gram of recreational rosin for $180, but the medical cannabis dispensary that used to sell the same stuff for $30 had been shut down. He asked how much tax gets added to that $30. I told him there was none because it was already included in the price of the product – compassion clubs pay taxes on everything, even a $0.30 capsule. He was surprised to hear that was the standard operating procedure within this aspect of the grey market, and furthermore, that it was possible to buy a $0.30 capsule.

Licensed Retailers do accept returns

If you buy weed at a licensed store that weighs less than it should, you can technically return it, but the process takes time. Any returns to retail stores go all the way back to the licensed producers themselves, and this causes a huge delay in resolving these issues. But again, technically it can be done. 

Medical access is not easy

The idea that accessing medical cannabis is near impossible for some people was a huge eye-opener, as his understanding, which seemed to be the norm across the legal industry, was limited to the simple sound bites doled out by the federal government in this regard. Bringing him around simply took the explanation that physicians are liable for everything that says, and so, if it wasn’t something discussed in medical school, they are hard-pressed to discuss it.

Without a long term, human test results, the College of Physicians and Surgeons simply won’t back up medicinal cannabis. With that in mind, every doctor that has ever signed a prescription for cannabis could technically be sued for malpractice; its easy to understand then why most won’t take the risk.

His eyes went wide and he was quiet for a while. I don’t think that he had ever considered that this concept could actually be a reality, and such a barrier for medicinal cannabis access – a step back, of sorts.

According to the federal government, who can make a medical recommendation? Neither of us knew.

I have often said that no one is trained to be a budtender. Doctors understand human biology but they don’t know the plant. Growers have the plant knowledge but they don’t necessarily have the medical knowledge. No one is trained to do that job. A remarkably similar analogy to the relationship between a doctor and a pharmacist. But all that being said, it doesn’t change the fact that people are sick, and they need their medicine. We can all stand around and talk about the best way to deal with the situation but for the people who work in compassion clubs, more often than not, that is just not an option.

When Two Friendly Foes Find Common Ground - A  Lift & Co. Conference Conversation

Medical compassion clubs make recommendations based on the collective experiences of the patients that use it, and ceaseless, thorough research. The staff doesn’t pretend to be doctors, they simply act as guides. A lot of these organizations have been around for decades, and ignoring that kind of experience is unwise. When you are dealing with a substance that is proven to be non-fatal, guidance is really all that some people need. Most often, it’s about relieving the anxiety that comes from uncertainty by helping a person understand what they are taking.

Recreational staff are not allowed to make any recommendations at all

A retail store is not allowed to give any medical advice and if you ask, they are required to refuse you service. This is a major problem and whoever set this up in the regulations, failed to think critically. Our current system is deliberately cutting off medical cannabis access, making it harder for sick people get the help they need.

If you don’t have a doctor willing to prescribe cannabis and assign you to a licensed producer’s mail order list, the government directs you to a recreational store. But, the regulations are written so that the staff can’t even discuss the way the product makes you feel! On top of that, you can’t see what you are buying ahead of time. A medical patient is literally not allowed to be helped and if they ask, the law says to ask them to leave.

Editor’s Note: I await an explanation of how this system makes any sense.

The staff at the legal stores try to help any way

The staff at these stores are caught in the crossfire; after all, when someone is asking for advice that you can give, it is hard to let the law stand in the way. If the staff want to help, they have to dance around the issue and they do it by focusing on the occasion, rather than effect. So, If a person comes in for something to help them sleep and expresses this, they are redirected from talking about the desired effect. Instead, they focus on the occasion and how the person is spending their time. 

For example: 

– Rather than talking about the effect of sleep, it sounds like you are looking for a nice chill night on the couch. You know, watch a relaxing movie or something.

– Rather than talking about an energizing effect, would you say that you are looking for something that’s going to be good for a hike or the gym?

Legalization in Canada is a mess because the Canadian government has created regulations that simply don’t make sense. In the midst of all this, it’s really easy to forget where these problems came from. We get lost in the heat of the moment and start competing. Instead of pointing our fingers at lawmakers, coming up with solutions, and supporting each other, we draw lines to divide us. The truth becomes skewed and sometimes forgotten. 

This past weekend I sat down with someone that some of my friends would label as my enemy. Judging by his face when I told him about my background, he felt the same way about me. We talked for way longer than either of us would have expected, and in the end walked away with more understanding of this entire industry and all those affected by it, than we could have expected. It was an accident and only happened because we were open to each other. I meant no ill will towards him and he meant none towards me.

When Two Friendly Foes Find Common Ground - A  Lift & Co. Conference Conversation

To him, I’m supposed to be a criminal that stands in the way of his success. To me, he is supposed to be the reason that the government can sleep despite taking away medicine. Within seconds it became very clear that we as people are working towards the same goal, fair cannabis access for all. I got a window into his world and he looked briefly into mine. As it turns out, whether it’s the legal or grey market, nothing is black and white.