Adam Greenblatt and the privatization of medical marijuana in Canada

medical marijuana sign

Recently, the federal government announced that they were going to ‘privatize’ the medical marijuana industry and they touted their decision as though it were both saving the government money and creating a vibrant new industry. Indeed, it is an industry valued at around a billion dollars annually, but the customer base is nonetheless limited to those who have a prescription. It goes without saying, if the 40 000 or so medical marijuana users in Canada can generate a billion dollar a year industry, imagine how much money could be made if the drug was completely legalized?

I recently spoke with Adam Greenblatt, executive director of the Medical Cannabis Access Society (MCAS), a Montreal-based private dispensary for medical marijuana and related by-products. I asked him for his thoughts concerning the new medical marijuana laws proposed by the Harper administration.

Among the positive aspects, there is the possibility for higher quality control as the new officially-sanctioned growers will have to submit their products for lab testing, but the flip-side is that anyone currently growing their own grass for medical purposes will lose that right. While I can appreciate how this will remove bad grass from the market, I’m not crazy about more restrictions on what I’m allowed to grow in my garden. There’s also the potential for greater variety and a standardization of potency, all of which will likely prove better for the consumer anyways.

As to how it’s to be produced, Mr. Greenblatt described the new system as though the government were handling nuclear waste. All prospective growers will be required to have significant start-up capital, security clearances, clean records and a large facility to grow it in (as there is to be no outdoor cultivation). 24 hour security systems will need to be in place, licenses will be good for one year and there will be regular inspections too.

As you might imagine, this limits who has a chance to get into the business. Not very good for free market capitalism…

Adam Greenblatt during a demonstration (image cannabisculture.com)
MCAS Executive Director Adam Greenblatt during a demonstration (image cannabisculture.com)

As it pertains to the MCAS, Mr. Greenblatt mentioned aspects of the new law which he found problematic, namely that there’s to be no by-products, no cookies or capsules; the only kind of medical marijuana new federal laws authorize is the smokable kind, and a fat lot of good that will do for someone who needs marijuana because they’re dying of lung cancer.

He mentioned his youngest client, a five year old boy who suffers from severe epilepsy and needs a special extract of marijuana which would be illegal under new Tory legislation. Apparently the Feds think the kid should smoke it…

Moreover, and further adding to the stigmatization of marijuana users, there are to be no storefront dispensaries, all will be provided via mail order. Again, not the most practical way to stimulate an apparently billion-dollar-a-year industry. Prices, though they could be much lower, are not in fact expected to drop, but remain where they are, far more expensive than they ought to be.

The Tories have, rather inexplicably, cut $4 million from medical marijuana research, apparently in an effort to incentivize private sector R&D (which I personally see as just another encumbrance to the proper development of this new industry, but I digress). This research should be public, for it is in the public’s interest to know precisely what marijuana is. But again, the Fed will look pretty stupid if it maintains the prohibition on the general consumption of marijuana all the while funding medical marijuana research which proves it’s utterly harmless and immensely beneficial.

I asked Mr. Greenblatt how this directly impacts the efforts of the MCAS, and he responded that, as it is today, he remains in something of a legal grey zone. He’s taken immense precautions to cover himself (such as only supplying people with prescriptions) and has developed a modest clientele genuinely appreciative of his efforts.

I asked him who these people were and his answer surprised me: there were soldiers with incurable, though manageable PTSD, people dying of cancer, suffering from multiple sclerosis, AIDS and HIV, depression, epilepsy, anxiety, chronic back pain. The list went on and on.

It began adding up in my head, the potentially immense number of people who can benefit from marijuana’s myriad medicinal properties. Mr. Greenblatt was emphatic: “make no mistake, this is the future of medicine.”

He brought up another point I’ll close on. Oxycontin kills someone every twenty minutes, and it’s covered by the RAMQ. Marijuana has never killed anyone, and possession of it can land you in jail and ruin your future.

How in hell is that fair?

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