Inside The Flourishing Medical Marijuana Business

It’s not just about brownies and bongs anymore.

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WRITTEN BY: BY: REGAN MCNEILL

One Saturday morning my boyfriend Ruben and I meandered the streets of Toronto’s hippie haven, Kensington Market, in search of something delicious to devour. Amidst all of the gluten-free bakeries and health foods shops lining the streets, we noticed that Kensington has more to offer than the usual array of grungy hip people to stare at and trendy vegan food to buy. It’s also got a lot of places to purchase medical marijuana.

Any sensible person knows by now that weed is not the problem, it’s the stigma associated with it. Just as I like to know where my food comes from, I would like to know where I am getting my weed as well.

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‘RING! RING!’ Ruben’s phone goes off and the timing is perfect; it’s his friend Andrew, who is probably one of the most productive and enthusiastic potheads I have ever encountered. He informs us that he just bought weed legally and is coming to pick us up so we too can experience our first legal pick up.

As it stands, medical marijuana dispensaries are not legal, nor are they all authorized by Health Canada. In fact only 15 dispensaries in Ontario have been authorized by Health Canada, and a total of 27 nationwide.

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Skeptical but stoked, Ruben and I agree to meet Andrew and join him in this endeavor. We enter a store on College Street with a giant neon green pot leaf glaring in the front window showcase. It is a pretty nonchalant situation; Andrew directs us to the Lemon Haze and without hesitation points directly at it. Then he takes out his membership and purchases an eighth from the stoned employee standing behind a huge glass showcase containing multiple strains of marijuana. Even though it was obvious that Andrew was buying for the two newbies in the building (Ruben and I), the establishment had no problem selling him the pot because Andrew had previously obtained a membership at the sister location by showing them a prescription for painkillers. Bewildered but happy, I wondered how this was even possible.

Whether it’s nausea, anxiety, cancer, AIDS, ADHD, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, weight loss, diabetes, panic attacks, PTSD, glaucoma, chronic pain or migraine, cannabis is considered not necessarily a cure, but a treatment.

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It is no surprise that the rules associated with the buying and selling medical marijuana have been hazy for a while. Before June of 2013, medical marijuana patients with a license obtained their pot (or medicine) by either growing it themselves, ordering it directly from Health Canada or getting someone to cultivate it on their behalf. Due to growing concerns of abuse associated with the system, the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation (MMPR) came into effect, which meant that licensed holders could only obtain the medical marijuana through purchasing from commercial, licensed producers.

Due to growing concerns of abuse associated with the system, the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation (MMPR) came into effect, which meant that licensed holders could only obtain the medical marijuana through purchasing from commercial, licensed producers.

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Since the Liberals stepped into power in October of 2015, the discussion surrounding legalizing marijuana has even broadened to include the possible regulation of recreational marijuana. As it stands, medical marijuana dispensaries are not legal, nor are they all authorized by Health Canada. In fact only 15 dispensaries in Ontario have been authorized by Health Canada, and a total of 27 nationwide. Nevertheless over 50 dispensaries have popped up in the city over the past two years, some staying and some going. The reason many of these dispensaries are able to stay open is not because they are legal, but because they operate in what is called a “grey area”.

So I went back to the dispensary where Andrew first took us and decided to investigate a little deeper.

“How do I acquire a membership here?” I asked the redhead 20-something behind the counter. Her response was succinct, she said I had to either show them a prescription that a doctor has written or a bottle of pills used to treat something that marijuana is known to help. I always carry my panic disorder medication with me so I handed her over the bottle. “Is this okay?” I asked nervously like an eighteen-year-old with a fake ID.

The reason many of these dispensaries are able to stay open is not because they are legal, but because they operate in what is called a “grey area”.

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She nodded. “All I need is ID and a picture of you and then you are good to go.” I looked over at my friend Mel who was secretly taking pictures of the establishment. It was that easy, I had just used my anxiety disorder as a means to get a membership to a place that would essentially allow me to purchase pot like it was candy from Bulk Barn. Not only are there edibles at these dispensaries either, but also wax, shatter and a well-labeled selection of medical marijuana -it’s basically stoner heaven.

“How are you guys legal?” I asked the girl, who knew I was referring to the store. By this time I had already smelled about ten different kinds of weed and chosen Brooklyn Mango, a sativa, as my vice of choice. “We operate in a grey area, but we haven’t had any trouble,” her mellow and almost flimsy demeanor would not give way; she was too happy-go-lucky to give a fuck about the cops. With that being said, I do not think she was solely responsible for the operation.

It was that easy, I had just used my anxiety disorder as a means to get a membership to a place that would essentially allow me to purchase pot like it was candy from Bulk Barn.

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I decided to check out a few more dispensaries in the area, none of them as “grey” as the first one I showed up at. The Kind Supply in Kensington was the first stop that Mel and I made. They seemed like the grandpa dispensary that plays by all the rules in the book. Let’s just say they did not enjoy my incessant inquiries about the steps I could take to possibly obtain a legal license and then purchase the cannabis-infused bath salts they sell, which would apparently make me feel like “jelly”.

“We operate in a grey area, but we haven’t had any trouble,” her mellow and almost flimsy demeanor would not give way; she was too happy-go-lucky to give a fuck about the cops.

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Cannawide Dispensary was our next stop. They have two locations in Kensington. Like Kind Supply, they will definitely not sell you weed unless you have a medical prescription for marijuana. However, they give you a few options as to how you could go about obtaining one. The girl working there had obtained hers through a Skype MD call and suggested it as the fastest and easiest way for the price of $250. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was another “grey area”, but also a super lucrative sector for all pro-marijuana doctors to get involved in.

There were a few other dispensaries in the market, but they all had the same procedures or advice to give: go to a doctor and complain or cry, and you will get a prescription for pot. I could not help but wonder if this was the advice they gave to all 20-something girls with anxiety.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this was another “grey area”, but also a super lucrative sector for all pro-marijuana doctors to get involved in.

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For the record, since marijuana can only be sold legally as medicine, all of these establishments treat it just as that. You will find information cards with bullet points listing the potential benefits of each strain and/or what ailment it cures. You can even buy cannabis formulas used to treat skin cancer and disorders. It’s not just about brownies and bongs anymore.

There were a few other dispensaries in the market, but they all had the same procedures or advice to give: go to a doctor and complain or cry, and you will get a prescription for pot.

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Whether it’s nausea, anxiety, cancer, AIDS, ADHD, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, weight loss, diabetes, panic attacks, PTSD, glaucoma, chronic pain or migraine, cannabis is considered not necessarily a cure, but a treatment. Since almost anyone can call weed a treatment for something, this means that pretty much anyone can get medical marijuana if they try hard enough or are lucky like I was.

As a person living with anxiety, I have come to terms with the fact that marijuana is a Band-Aid solution that does have long-term impacts that can actually increase anxiety over time. With that being said I would say I use marijuana more recreationally than medicinally, but this does not mean I will not try and get a prescription so that I can purchase marijuana legally at a dispensary (I am still not sure whether I have done that or not). Also many of the dispensaries told me that I should get a card now while I can because recreational prices are going to be steeper.

It seems to me that people can determine what use of cannabis is appropriate for them; they shouldn’t have to jump through “medical” hoops to get it.

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Any sensible person knows by now that weed is not the problem, it’s the stigma associated with it. Just as I like to know where my food comes from, I would like to know where I am getting my weed as well. I don’t see that as a problem. The only problem I can see is that society has not yet come to terms with the fact that many people use cannabis both recreationally and medicinally, and will happily dive into grey areas just to get it. It seems to me that people can determine what use of cannabis is appropriate for them; they shouldn’t have to jump through “medical” hoops to get it. And what about business owners? Should they keep up this facade where they are the doctor and the customer is the patient?

Photos by: Melissa Boodoo