(Originally written for Business of Cannabis 9 October 2018)

Access to medical cannabis, while growing in acceptance across Canada, is far from universal. If you are an adult in control of your own care, the barriers to access are beginning to fall. If you are dependent on someone else for your care though, you may be out of luck.

I arrived at work last Tuesday to an irate email from a patient’s daughter. Her mother had been authorized to use medical cannabis by a physician in our network – CBD oil specifically – to help manage the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease. The care home she had recently moved into was refusing to administer the medication. No worries, I thought, that is what our team is here for – to assist patients and their families navigate the world of medical cannabis.

It became quickly apparent however, that this would not be simple. The care home refused to administer the medication until the patient produced a long list of documentation supporting its use – several pieces that just plain didn’t exist. Their policy read as though it had been written by someone with no familiarity with the ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations). It was impossible for the patient to meet the requirements. The words “medical document” and “licensed producer” appeared nowhere in the policy, though the provincial ministry of health appeared more than once. Odd, given they are not involved in medical cannabis oversight under the current regulations.

The employee at the care home told me when together we discovered the holes in their procedures, they would simply return the oil to the patient and she could administer it herself. I sighed – for those familiar with the devastating effects of Parkinson’s, the idea the patient could administer the oil on her own was inconceivable.

Luckily, patients today have a growing variety of delivery options available to them. Gone are the days of patients needing to smoke dried flower or make their own oils. In this case, we were able to assist the patient in ordering cannabis oil-filled capsules, which are now on their way to her. For now, the rest of the patient’s medication will be administered by the attendants at the care home. The patient will still be responsible for administering the cannabis on her own, now made easier with pre-dosed capsules. It was the best we could do under the circumstances.

This is not a unique situation. Every week, another story of a patient and their family having to choose between their treatment and their care home seems to be surfacing. The literature suggests that cannabis may be helpful in the management of chronic pain, sleep, appetite, and spasticity – common ailments found in assisted living facilities. Moreover, the risks commonly associated with cannabis treatment including impairment, the impact on the developing brain, potential risks associated with breastfeeding and pregnancy, are less concerning for those living in long-term care.

Anyone who has had to transition a family member into long-term care understands how emotionally, financially and logistically challenging the process can be. Forcing patients and their families to choose between their treatment and their care home is simply wrong and unfair. The medical cannabis system is here to stay and it is imperative those facilities that claim to provide comprehensive care and support for a growing population of aging Canadians update their policies, procedures and training protocols to accommodate medical cannabis treatment. All Canadians are entitled to fair access to medical treatments and living in a long-term care facility should not exempt Canadians from these rights. One way or another, care homes will have to adapt. We can only hope they do so on their own, before patients are forced back to the courts to fight for their rights.

Breanna Roycroft is the Vice President of GrowWise Health, a leading provider of medical cannabis education for patients and health care providers.

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