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Lost to the developments around recreational cannabis since legalization became a reality in the fall of 2018, medical cannabis has become a more nuanced aspect of the conversation. For the many Canadians looking to adopt cannabis therapy and not, necessarily, use the herb for fun at pastimes, the waters are a little murky when it comes to the question of how to become a patient, and where to get a prescription.

To the chagrin of some advocates, medical cannabis has seemingly been swept under the carpet in place of commercial interests and huge profits for cannabis products that don’t really exemplify the type of doses and products – tinctures, topicals and concentrates – that patients often turn to for treatment. Others, still, are confused about the basics of therapy, including how to begin the journey with medical cannabis.

Luckily, there is infrastructure in place to help expedite the process. Across the country, from province to province, there are hundreds and perhaps even thousands of cannabis clinics in place to help Canadians take the vital first steps to becoming patients. These clinics are all a bit different, operate under different brands and business models, but most have the same primary mandate: helping to facilitate patient access to medically-viable cannabis products.1

These clinics are said to take two distinct forms. Membership-based clinics see patients pay a fee for education and connecting to physicians who are knowledgeable in the area, and are willing to provide prescriptions to these clients. The second model is one in which medical clinics are staffed with physicians and patients are not charged for consultations. Rather, the attending physician bills the provincial health system for his or her services.

In a very real sense, it is these clinics who serve as the middlemen between doctors and patients, and licensed cannabis producers the country over. According to most reports, these clinics serve a real need in the community, as many primary-care physicians are still leery of filing prescriptions for medical cannabis due to the lack of research, dosing protocols and the fact that cannabis still does not have a drug identification number, like every other pharmaceutical drug.2 

Since Canada’s recreational cannabis laws, the Cannabis Act, were enacted, there have been some changes that have made the process of obtaining a prescription easier. For instance, while many clinics continue to refer patients to licensed producers, these companies now have the means of accepting and processing the requisite documents to provide patients their prescriptions.

In addition to being able to buy products directly from producers, Health Canada has helped to differentiate recreational from medical cannabis in the following ways: There is no longer a 30-day limitation period for buying medical cannabis; patients have a broader range of products available to them; and they also have access to the increasing number of licensed producers. All of these measures have made the transition period to adult-use reforms more comfortable for genuine cannabis patients.3

While cannabis reform has taken shape in Canada at a very fast pace, so too have the conventions for how to become a medical patient changed. Assuredly, the introduction of recreational cannabis laws has made accessing the herb easier for everyone. But for anyone who wants to strictly be a medical patient, it is important to understand the significance of cannabis clinics, and also the particular steps that need to be taken to obtain a prescription. For those reasons, education in this area remains paramount to any other questions or concerns about cannabis legislation and laws. 

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