PATIENTS who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes (CTP) rate storefront dispensaries highly for quality, safety, availability and efficiency, but less highly for cost compared to some other cannabis sources, new UBC research has found.
The study, led by interdisciplinary studies PhD candidate Rielle Capler, is the first to look specifically at access from dispensaries in Canada and comes ahead of legislation that will legalize the sale of cannabis for non-medical uses expected by July 2018. Researchers used data gathered in 2011-12 for the Cannabis Access for Medical Purposes Study (CAMPS) led by UBC Okanagan professor Zach Walsh.
In this Q&A, Capler elaborates on some of the findings.
What motivated you to undertake this particular study?
Dispensaries have been a major source of patient access to medical cannabis in Canada for many years, but there has not been any research specifically looking at who is accessing from dispensaries and how it compares to other sources. There’s a lot of attention on dispensaries right now as new policies are being looked at for how to distribute cannabis under new regulations.
What struck you most about the results?
We know that about 80 per cent of patients use dispensaries, even those who are authorized to buy cannabis legally. So what is interesting is to get some understanding of why. What we found is that patients who use dispensaries are highly satisfied with the services and products that they are getting. There was less satisfaction with the cost at dispensaries as compared to some of the other sources—particularly growing it yourself or having somebody grow it for you. And that makes sense, because the closer you are to the source, the less expensive the product will be.
A court case that led to the current ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) said that just allowing people to buy it from a licensed producer isn’t constitutional, because it’s too expensive and we have to give people access to affordable sources. Cost is still a really important issue for patients, and if they can’t grow it themselves or have somebody grow it for them, they’re going to be getting it from a third party, whether it be —potentially in the future—a legal dispensary or a licensed producer. Cost coverage and support has to be built into that.
Given what has taken place in other jurisdictions such as U.S. states, what role, if any, do you think dispensaries will play in a post-legalization marketplace?
That’s the really important question, and I hope this research can inform that by highlighting the role that dispensaries are currently playing, and the satisfaction that people have with these sources. Looking at other jurisdictions, dispensaries are typically part and parcel of any regulations regarding distribution. Provincial regulators will be assessing storefront access, and I do think it would be instructive for them to look at the natural experiment that’s been happening for the past 20 years in Canada with dispensaries and seeing how effective it is, and using that data to inform their decisions. Clearly dispensaries are already playing a big role in cannabis access in Canada. They’ll have to either look at continuing that—licensing them and putting them into a legal framework—or drawing on what’s working and not working in dispensaries as they build a new model.
The paper, “Are dispensaries indispensable? Patient experiences of access to cannabis from medical cannabis dispensaries in Canada” was published online recently in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Rielle Capler led the research. Additional authors include Zach Walsh, Susan Holtzman, and Kim Crosby of UBC Okanagan; Lynne Belle-Isle of the Canadian AIDS Society and Centre for Addictions Research of BC; Philippe Lucas of Centre for Addictions Research of BC; and medical cannabis patient advocate Robert Callaway.