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Backlash After Canadian Medical Association Calls to End Canada’s Medical Marijuana Program

August 22, 2018
A stock photo of some Medical Marijuana Buds.
The Canadian Medical Association has sparked a feud with medical cannabis advocates across the country—including many of the organization’s own members—by proposing that Canada’s existing medical marijuana program be scrapped once recreational cannabis becomes legal.

The CMA is proposing that Canada’s existing medical marijuana program be scrapped once recreational cannabis becomes legal.

The CMA, a national, voluntary association of physicians, believes there shouldn’t be a separate regulatory framework for medical cannabis once recreational cannabis is available, and it’s calling on Ottawa to endorse a single regulatory system for both.

The organization says there isn’t enough scientific evidence backing up claims that cannabis has therapeutic value, and it says individuals interested in using it for medical purposes should get it at dispensaries that sell it for recreational use.

Curious About Cannabis? Explore a Dispensary Near You!

Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice-president of medical professionalism with the CMA, ignited a firestorm in April, when he articulated this position at a conference organized by the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, a non-profit that promotes research on medical cannabis.

Several physicians in the audience stood up and took Blackmer to task. One demanded to know if Blackmer believed a child with epilepsy should seek cannabis at a dispensary. Another physician announced that she was ashamed of the organization.

One physician demanded to know if the CMA believed a child with epilepsy should seek cannabis at a dispensary.

Blackmer was booed and soon left the conference. He then took to Twitter, bemoaning what he described as a “lost opportunity for an important conversation.” He also said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” for the physicians behind the “name calling, personal attacks, jeering and booing.”

Unbowed, Blackmer reiterated the CMA’s position to CBC Calgary in early August. “If anyone can go down to the local dispensary and get cannabis, there’s really no need for a separate medical authorization system,” Blackmer told the CBC. “You really don’t need to have people going to their doctors because anyone who has a medical condition and thinks they might benefit from it can go ahead and try it.”

He said there is nothing stopping individuals from asking their doctors for input.

Related

A Guide to Canada’s Medical Marijuana Program

Widespread Blowback

Blackmer’s comments have outraged many physicians and other cannabis advocates.

“I feel his statements are unfortunate and I wholeheartedly disagree,” Dr. Christopher Blue, a doctor in Windsor, Ontario who prescribes medical cannabis, told Leafly. “As clinicians, we’re seeing a shift in medicine in that patients are now pursuing alternative and adjuvant treatments” for conventional diseases and for their overall health and well-being.

“A single system for both medical and non-medical cannabis would erode the ability of health care providers to ensure patients receive adequate supply and proper dosages.”
Jonathan Zaid, director of advocacy and corporate social responsibility for Aurora Cannabis

“By refusing to accept cannabis as a form of medical treatment [the CMA] would continue to separate patients even further from their medical doctors as they seek out newer, alternative, natural remedies.”

Dr. Vahid Salimpour, a cannabis specialist at Apollo Cannabis Clinics in Ontario, told Leafly that the current medical regulatory system provides discounts for patients who are living off social assistance or disability pay—a benefit that would likely disappear if the medical system were eliminated.

Salimpour also said that, if the medical framework were eliminated, the government would likely stop covering the cost of cannabis for military veterans who suffer from PTSD and other disorders—which would “create a huge barrier to their continued recovery and wellness.”

“A single system for both medical and non-medical cannabis would erode the ability of health care providers to ensure patients receive adequate supply and proper dosages,” added Jonathan Zaid, director of advocacy and corporate social responsibility for Aurora, a Calgary-based licensed producer.

Eliminating the medical cannabis system wouldn’t eliminate the use of medical cannabis, he said. “It would simply push patients away from speaking with their doctor about its use.”

Patient, Heal Thyself?

What does Zaid think about Blackmer’s suggestion that individuals hoping to treat medical conditions buy it at dispensaries that sell recreational cannabis?

Seeking medical guidance from a dispensary budtender would be “no different than pursuing cognitive behavioural therapy from a local bartender—no offence to bartenders.”
Dr. Christopher Blue

“I find it deeply concerning that a medical doctor, let alone a doctor speaking for many of the 13,000 providers who already prescribe cannabis, can have such a narrow and misguided view of a treatment that has widely reported success in managing patients’ symptoms,” he told Leafly.

In his view, Blackmer’s comments are “not only ignorant of the patient and healthcare provider experience, they also encourage self-diagnosis, self-medication, and experimentation by limiting physician oversight.”

Dr. Blue is equally critical of Blackmer’s suggestion. Seeking guidance from a dispensary budtender, he said, would be “no different than pursuing cognitive behavioural therapy and counseling from a local bartender—no offence to bartenders — rather than a clinician who is experienced and clinically trained in treating such conditions.”

“I never thought I’d see the day when doctors would be asking for them to be less involved in a patient’s health than more, and suggesting patients self-medicate rather than consult with their doctors,” James O’Hara, president and CEO of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), told Leafly.  “It’s not only astonishing, it’s disheartening to say the very least.”

Stigma Stifles Scientific Research

Many cannabis advocates also take issue with Blackmer citing a lack of scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of medical cannabis.

Dr. Blue, for one, noted that there has been continued growth in scientific studies that prove its therapeutic value—some of which indicate cannabis is sometimes more effective than conventional treatment—and added that the abundance of clinical evidence should not be discounted.

He and other advocates are confident there would be even more scientific evidence that cannabis has therapeutic value if not for the stigma surrounding it.

Related

The Most Common Qualifying Conditions for Medical Cannabis

Dr. Salimpour told Leafly that the “demonization” of cannabis has prevented more studies from being undertaken. He said he would like to see more research on dosing, strain selection, and interactions.

The consensus among cannabis advocates in the medical community and beyond is that Blackmer and the organization he represents, the CMA, are on the wrong side of history.

Said Blue: “It’s my opinion that it would be a disservice to patients to continue to stick one’s head in the sand and ignore the benefits of cannabis rather than educate oneself and work towards integrating cannabinoid medicine into conventional medicine.”

Randi Druzin's Bio Image

Randi Druzin

Randi Druzin is an author and journalist in Toronto. She has worked at several major media outlets, including the National Post and the CBC, and has written for dozens of publications, such as The New York Times, Time magazine, ESPN The Magazine, and The Globe and Mail.

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  • Apollo AR

    Thank you for the opportunity for one of our physician’s Dr. Salimpour, to participate in this article.

  • Cowtown

    Thanks for this story – absolutely unbelievable such a measure is even being considered. Dr. Jeff Blackmer should feel embarrassed!

  • Irene Donohue

    Hey Randi, Aurora is an Alberta based licensed producer, not B.C.

  • Disqus

    > The organization says there isn’t enough scientific evidence backing up claims that cannabis has therapeutic value…

    And there never will be enough evidence, if the organization has its way …because God doesnt bribe anyone to recommend his products, so they can’t profit by prescribing marijuana. Follow the money trail, folks: the scumbags who profit the most from prohibition are going to fight the public every step of the way on the long journey back to liberty and justice.

  • Conrad Westendorf

    I have been using “medical Cannabis” for over two years as I broke my back and needed addition help from tradition pharmaceuticals. Not only has my experience been positive, I would not have recovered without it. It helped with pain, depression, anxiety, sleep and just feeling better all around. If Canada wants to scrap the medical side of it whilst legalizing same so be it. The government is missing out on a huge opportunity to gather more data. But That is for the bureaucrats to have a drink, or 20 make a committee to make a committee so on and so forth and waste our tax payers money on. I say @#$% to the medical Dr. with their narcissistic values and hypocritical oath.

  • James Peters

    It should be.

  • Tehoronhiathe Medicine Man Day

    i call it supply and demand. if they cut it off it will get here some how!! so better to profit then to watch it grow on its own!! lol

  • david desorcy

    always follow the money. CMA are pigs at the Pharmaceutical industry trough. They get donations and become talking heads for the Pharmaceutical industry, they are disgusting.

  • nunya bidnit

    I’ve been a cannabis consumer for 30 years… I’ve been using cannabis “medically” since I broke my back 12 years ago. This discussion is just absurd. Raw cannabis needs to be available anywhere that people are prepared to sell it. It should be available at the grocery store between the basil and cilantro. There are many natural substances that have medical or therapeutic benefits, such as turmeric or blueberries. What do you think the legislation of the use of turmeric would do to it’s price? The only people who want cannabis tightly controlled are the people who stand to gain from it’s continued control. “The government” is not stupid, or made up of a bunch of stupid people, they fully understand these simple facts; A) Cannabis is not bad for you(in fact the opposite is true) B) The current price of cannabis is unnaturally inflated due to their direct involvement in it’s prohibition and C) the unnaturally inflated price of cannabis can only be maintained with their continued direct involvement… Cannabis should be as “legal as it’s contemporary counterparts. I don’t need a licence to grow turmeric, hell, I don’t even need a licence to grow tobacco(a natural substance also having medicinal value.) Tobacco is a great example of a plant whose medicinal value has been overshadowed by it’s toxicity, a toxicity directly related to its legislation. When is the last time you saw organically produced natural tobacco? Licenced cannabis producers have repeatedly been caught using prohibited pesticides on their product and their product is sub-standard in relation to the “black market.” I’ve been getting proper cannabis oil for my mother who has stage 3 multiple melanoma from a trusted supplier, yet as a law abiding citizen in her 70’s she wanted to go legit, so she has seen a “doctor” and been prescribed 1gram a day… Of shit-water tincture that does absolutely nothing for her. This whole scheme is about nothing more than greed and needs to be completely abolished. People need to see that the government is nothing more than a gang of organized criminals and their approach to things like cannabis could not demonstrate this any more clearly.

  • Wise Crops

    i think these doctors have some type of brain tumor. maybe they need some medical marijuana. oh wait. they dont even smoke weed. too bad for them, they’ll probably start deteriorating soon. i forgot to mention, shoppers made a deal for medical marijuana. so lets see them fight shoppers and an entire multi billion dollar medical industry

  • oldtimer

    If the physicians back in Louis Pasteur’s day had had their way, they would have run Pasteur ‘out-of-town-on-a-rail’ after ‘tarring-and-feathering’ him.

    Physicians tend to be against anything that challenges their commonly held beliefs; nothing has changed!

    To quote the man himself, “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”
    Louis Pasteur

  • oldtimer

    As regards the position of Canadian Medical Association, it was about this very concern that caused me to write Health Canada a few days ago.
    I am a medical cannabis user.

    (Health Canada will continue to control medical cannabis across Canada as it stands now.
    The provinces will control the recreational side.)
    I have asked Health Canada, if they will be issuing medical cards to patients such as myself.
    Right now, I complained, I am stuck with one dispensary with which my doctor has a professional
    connection going back years.
    I further stated that I’d prefer to be able to buy product wherever I’m located.
    Right now, that dispensary is on the other side of the country which only uses Canada Post.
    Postal strikes are not uncommon in Canada.
    Why should we have to pay for shipping when a dispensary is right down the street.
    I also mentioned, that the dispensary I’m forced to use, does not have much choice as to strains.
    I await their response.

  • jim andrews

    It took years be for surgeons started to scrub up before operating to prevent post op infections.entrencment of habits by hubris professions is hard to change but results speak for themselvs.

  • Natacha Lalande

    I’m so poor that if they scraped the medical program, i wouldnt even be able to afford my medication, especially seeing how Quebec refuses homegrow except for medical.. i currently can pay 4.80$/g or 40$/40ml with the compassionate pricing, but recreational taxed will be close to 10$/g, it’s more than double what i pay and there will be a lack of CBD in recreational.. also some patients like kids might only use CBD only, which i’m pretty sure WON’T be available.

  • Robert Wright

    I would not use licensed producer cannabis those people are not to be trusted Health Canada allows them to use 21 different pesticides and gamma radiation no thanks I will grow my own I want nothing to do with government licensed producers these greedy stock market corporations don’t care if they kill you profit over everything that’s there mantra and all they care about

  • Sheila H.

    I hope and pray that Blackmer will be pushed out of his position because he truly has no clue on the benefits of the medical cannabis. Whenever I have to see my doctor I have to fill out 5 online questionnaires on my medical progress with the strains that I’m on and how much it has improved my life. I was on opiods I had no life, I had no way to spend any quality time with my family and my grandbabies since I’ve been on the medical cannabis I’ve been able to travel, play and watch over my grandchildren, going out with my friends and now he wants to get rid of all of this to put us playing Russian roulette with what’s out there for the general public. He needs to get educated that our THC doesn’t make us stoned where store purchased can make us loopy. I’m so glad that the other physician’s booed him off the stage and stood up for the medical patients, I hope that he gets booted out of the CMA because he definitely doesn’t know about the subject matter that he’s talking about.

    • Rose Grossi

      What do you use? Whenever I have tried cannabis it’s caused me unending pain until it clears my body. So I am not only in more pain but I sit and focus more on it because of the high! I’ve also used CBD both pure and 20:1 and after a month to 6 weeks I’ve noticed a little bit less inflammation but nothing like you are describing so please tell me what miracle stain has been able to reduce your need for opioids!