A local medicinal cannabis dispensary, The Kootenay’s Medicine Tree, is being told by local RCMP that if the dispensary continues to provide cannabis products, to clients they face possible enforcement action.
In response, the directors of the Medicine Tree, which opened in Grand Forks in early August, have started a petition to Mayor Frank Konrad and city council to provide a statement of support asking the RCMP to show the dispensary tolerance, like that extended to other dispensaries in the province.
Jim Leslie, one of the directors, said the Medicine Tree offers a variety of medical cannabis and hemp products. He stresses, though, that all customers must be approved members, which is done through an intake procedure which requires a doctor’s note.
“We still have the dried, smokeable buds, the different strains that everyone knows about when they think about marijuana or cannabis,” he said. “But our specialty is in the concentrates: the derivatives, the oils, the capsules, the creams. Increasingly we have suppliers who are producing in lab environments and testing this.”
Leslie said with the new federal system dispensaries can’t access the concentrates which,“are the most therapeutic of all. These are generally a non-smokeable option.”
Leslie said the ingestible capsules are made with a measured amount of THC and CBD. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chief psychoactive compound found in marijuana (essentially the part that makes you “high’), while CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive component said to have a wider scope of medical applications.
Leslie said that CBD has mostly been bred out of marijuana in favour of more THC but is making a comeback. “This is the number one cash crop in medicine in the new federal system around the world. People are looking at cannabidiol-producing plants as the answer to all the medical needs that wasn’t being satisfied before with just THC.
“Capsules are great because they are measured and tested so each dose is the same,” he said. “It’s oral so they’re not smoking it. It also lasts longer. It has the greatest therapeutic action and gain to a person’s health over time.”
Leslie said there are also oils which he says is a much more concentrated, absorbable cannabis.
“People don’t have to smoke ‘joints’ and measure their medicine in joint smoke which is increasingly ridiculous in this day and age,” he said.
Leslie said they have clients of all ages but their main clientele are seniors with chronic illnesses. He said the dispensary is not meant for recreation users who “just want to get high.”
“Part of our intake procedure is to eliminate them,” said Leslie. “We’re not here to serve that crowd. That’s not our deal. We’re here to help people who are chronically or terminally ill.
“Part of our process is they need to show medical documentation that they just can’t falsify or create. It needs to be validated and from a physician. We use that in order to delineate from the recreational to the medical.”
Leslie estimates that 80 per cent the Medicine Tree’s clientele are 50 years old or older.
“These people are dealing with chronic pain, chronic arthritis, chronic inflammation,” he said. “Some of these folks have been addicted to opiate pain pills for decades. Some have been on valium for years —heavily addictive, toxic substances.”
Leslie said cannabis is much safer than other drugs (such as opiates) used to cope with pain and suffering because it’s safe (there is no record of anyone dying from cannabis, he said), and it also allows people to come off of stronger, toxic drugs like oxycontin with little or no side effects.
“They can replace pain management with substances that interplay naturally with the body’s own receptors,” said Leslie. “It’s safe and effective and interplays with the master homeostatic regulatory system in the human body.”
Leslie said that cannabis has been found to be very effective in controlling seizures in children.
“We have children in this dispensary right now that are physician-approved and all of them, except maybe a couple of cancer patients, are dealing with severe epilepsy,” he said. “We have kids in our membership which are nearly seizure-free because they are ingesting predominantly CBD but also some amounts of THC sometimes. It’s incredible what can happen. These kids are on medicines like phenobarbitol—toxic, brain-damaging, addictive drugs— and they’re coming off them for these (cannabis) substances we can provide from safe sources and that are tested.”
Leslie received a visit from two plainclothes police officers at his house at Christina Lake recently to talk about the “activities” going on at the dispensary.
“They asked if we had a licence from Health Canada,” said Leslie. “No, we don’t. We have everything else. We have a business licence, Interior Health is fine with us, the fire chief is okay with us, membership is fine. Things are working out in town but no, we don’t have that licence.”
One of the constables told Leslie that it would help out the RCMP if they would get the licence from Health Canada. “We wouldn’t have to do an enforcement action against you,” Leslie was told.
“I had to tell him no, because if we do that all those products we now currently provide, all the oils, capsules and derivatives, would be gone,” he said.
The Medicine Tree is currently looking into legal counsel but at this point, Leslie said if they were to get a licence from Health Canada it would mean they could no longer provide anything other than smokeable buds (joints).
These kids are getting seizure relief with the substances and the oils and that would have to stop, said Leslie.
Staff Sgt. Jim Harrison of the Grand Forks RCMP detachment said the RCMP received two complaints about the Medicine Tree and acted upon those complaints.
“As a result that individual (the owner) has seized doing business at that location,” said Harrison. “Further to that, unfortunately, if we receive a complaint we are bound to act on it because it is illegal. Even though other police forces have turned a blind eye to it, if we receive a complaint from the public, like we did in this case, we are obligated to deal with the matter at hand which is what we did in this case.”
Harrison said he has told people that have asked, that he does not have the authority to give someone the permission to break the law.
“Until the laws and regulations change, we are obligated to deal with it,” he said. “That’s where it stands from our point of view. Is it one of our highest priorities? Absolutely not. Unless we receive a complaint, then it does become a priority.”
Leslie and his co-directors have put up a petition online at change.org to ask Mayor Frank Konrad and council to provide a statement of support to ask the RCMP to show the dispensary tolerance, like that extended to the five dispensaries in Vernon, soon to be three in Kelowna and one in Nelson.
“It’s a way of showing Mayor Konrad and council that we have a lot of support,” said Leslie. “We think that even if they take a generally supportive stance it shows the police it’s not an issue. Kelowna and Vernon are swimming in medical marijuana dispensaries and are all under RCMP jurisdiction and they’re not getting raided.”
There is also a paper petition available for residents to sign at the Medicine Tree store front at #4 – 1960 68 Avenue in Grand Forks.
“The police were pretty specific that if we kept providing access to cannabis product at this location they would come in with warrants and do arrests and seizures (of equipment) and recommend charges to Crown council,” said Leslie. “They said anything else we do such as advocation and support is fine but that’s not what’s sustaining people’s lives.”
Leslie said the Medicine Tree is seeking advice from legal council and will decide whether to stay open based on that advice.
“Right now we continue to provide access to our membership,” he said. “We have to be non-specific about how we’re doing that. For what it’s worth, our doors are open and our membership continues to come here for our personal support and information. They are also getting access to product and we believe with proper legal assistance and public support we can continue to do that here. Police are in a tough spot. They are doing their job and this is to be expected.”