Access to Cannabis Can Be Advanced By Smashing Stigma, Dismantling Barriers and Normalizing Use

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COMMUNITIES Access to cannabis can be advanced by smashing stigma, dismantling barriers and normalizing use Speakers at Lift & Co. discuss learning from legalization’s lessons to craft a bright future for cannabis By Ashley Keenan Whether panel members were addressing issues such as attracting top talent or if it’s alright to consume cannabis during pregnancy, talk of stigma and its impact on access to cannabis continued to rear its ugly head. iStock / Getty Images Plus

A key theme emerged as part of panel discussions at the recent Lift & Co.’s Expo Industry Day and Expo Consumer Weekend: Even in a post-legalization Canada, being able to access and consume cannabis without barriers continues to be a challenge.

Whether panel members were addressing issues such as attracting top talent or if it’s alright to consume cannabis during pregnancy, talk of stigma and its impact on access to cannabis continued to rear its ugly head.

The observations were offered during Lift & Co.’s wider conference and exposition, held in Toronto as part of Canadian Cannabis Week. The annual conference and trade show brought together industry leaders, vendors and attendees.

Industry access: attracting talent

Some view it as a precarious time for professionals in the cannabis industry, with stigma around the perceived morals and ethics of consumers and supporters representing a drag on attracting top professionals and hindering innovation. In addition, issues pertaining to restrictions, varying international legal frameworks and lack of clinical studies drove many and varied discussions during the event. For example, during the One Degree of Separation: An Ancillary Services’ Wisdom panel, industry players talked about the challenges and potential solutions of working in the cannabis industry.

Jay Evans, CEO of Keirton Inc., used his lived experience as an example of how, sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Evans received a lifetime ban from entering the U.S. because of his involvement in working on innovative agricultural equipment to be used in the legal cannabis industry. It was further reported two engineers, both equipped with Nexus passes and no criminal records, also received lifetime bans. They were found to be inadmissible as a result of border agents declaring them living off profits from the drug trade.

Evans told attendees that he lost four of his best engineers as a result of the whole situation, arguing that he views instances like his own as a barrier to attracting accredited professionals possessing multiple skill sets of use in the cannabis industry.

Medical access: improving patient care

Participants on the Keeping Patients a Priority: Meeting Needs and Advancing Treatment panel discussed medication challenges for cannabis patients, both with regard to access and affordability, including double taxing cannabis prescriptions. Gerald Major, president of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana(CFAMM), discussed how taxing medical cannabis hinders access to vital medication. CFAMM cited findings from an Environics poll that found 62 percent of respondents are opposed to taxing medical cannabis.

Major theorized that one change that could help ease financial barriers would be to create a DIN (drug identification number) for all cannabis prescriptions, thereby advancing the view of cannabis as medication. This would potentially pave the way for insurance providers to more easily offer cannabis coverage, allow the government to drop the excise tax (cannabis would be part of prescription medications, not the separate excise tax system) and could bolster positive public perception of cannabis as a credible medical treatment.

“We need recognition that this isn’t a loophole for adult users [to fuel addiction]; cannabis is a legitimate therapeutic condition,” Allan Rewak, vice president of communications and stakeholder relations at Emerald Health Therapeutics Inc., said during the panel.

Panel members discussed that physicians are hesitant to prescribecannabis, there are real gaps in knowledge around interactions, dosing and long-term effects that need to be studied and it is up to doctors to educate themselves and their peers, both domestically and internationally to make patients a priority.

Access to justice: righting history’s wrongs

The legal cannabis industry has been quick to evolve, but in its haste, Annamaria Enenajor, a criminal defence attorney and campaign director for Cannabis Amnesty, suggested thousands of Canadians have been left behind. The war on drugs has been responsible for incarcerating individuals on charges of minor cannabis possession, disproportionately arresting people of colour, Enenajor told attendees.

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