People packed the council chambers at City Hall Monday for a public hearing on medical marijuana dispensaries. A sign of support for the dispensaries reminded council that dispensary users are using cannabis for pain management

Emotional and personal testimonies offered in defence of marijuana dispensaries

Treatment of cancers and other health issues cited as city holds hearing into bylaw banning ‘businesses’ offering medicinal pot products

It was an emotional night at City Hall Monday as those struggling to fight through cancer and other medical crises courageously shared their stories and explained how medical marijuana has saved their lives.

Around 40 people packed the council chambers to convince council to halt the process for making medical marijuana dispensaries illegal in Campbell River.

Council, at its April 11 meeting, gave first and second reading to a bylaw amendment that, if adopted, will prohibit all marijuana operations – including dispensaries – unless they are legally permitted through Health Canada and have the proper paperwork to prove it.

It was an unpopular move among those in the public gallery Monday as 15 people got up to speak at a public hearing to ask council to reconsider.

Most of the speakers are battling serious health issues and all said medical marijuana has greatly improved their quality of life.

One of the more emotional testimonies of the night came from Megan Hansen, a 35-year-old mother of two who was diagnosed a couple of years ago with an incurable brain tumour that is 95 per cent recurrent. She said just six months after her initial diagnosis, the tumour had already doubled in size. Hansen was prescribed a cocktail of different medications by her doctors but the medicine kept her in bed with awful side effects like constant nausea and pain and she gained nearly 70 pounds.

“I was failing,” she said as she fought through tears. “I started exploring alternative methods and I discovered CBD (cannabidiol which is found in marijuana plants and is said to have no side effects). After a few weeks I started to see a difference. Migraines were less intense, I had energy, I was playing and interacting with my children again. I was living.

“I stand here a year later, I’m working part-time, I have no new growth on my tumour and I’m 35 pounds lighter,” Hansen told council. “What I’m asking is for you to not deny our community access to safe, regulated, organic medicine.”

Like Hansen, Bob Nicoll shared that the CBD in medicinal marijuana has improved his quality of life as he’s been fighting throat cancer over the last four years. Nicoll, who doesn’t use drugs and rarely drinks alcohol, resisted trying medical marijuana for years before trying his first product – cannabidiol oils – about a month ago.

“It’s been a hard road. Chemo is not an option as it’s not going to cure my type of cancer, yet the cancer clinic pushed me to get chemo several times,” Nicoll said. “CBD inhibits the growth of cancer cells. I’m not looking to get high or buzzed off it, but if CBD is what I need to improve my quality of life or put my cancer in remission, wouldn’t you do CBD? When you’re told that your loved can no longer be helped in a conventional way, you look for an alternative. It’s time to remove the stigma of cannabis that it’s just a reason to get high. ”

Steve Wood agreed.

“I think it’s time to say, ‘let’s get this out into the open,’” Wood said. “There’s only a small amount of people courageous enough to look for an alternative, something different from what our doctors told us.”

One of those courageous people is Sharon Pawlak who has been dealing with severe pain daily brought on by fibromyalgia and migraines.

“A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t walk up a single flight of stairs to have a shower,” she said through tears. “My specialist had no answers for me. He said all the medications given to me were basically it. He said I want you to go to the medical marijuana clinic.”

So she went.

“It’s changed my life these last two weeks. I’m living now, not existing,” she said. “I felt a difference within three days. I have not suffered a migraine for almost two weeks and I was getting them nearly every two days. I need local access to cannabis. CBD is the only thing that’s helped me and it has no side effects. CBD doesn’t make you high like narcotics.”

CBD, unlike its counterpart tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the other main ingredient found in marijuana plants – is non-psychoactive, meaning it can’t get you high.

Joel Wilson, one of the operators of WeeMedical – Campbell River’s only medical marijuana dispensary – said 65 per cent of its 465 members are over the age of 45 and 70 per cent are there for the CBD oils, bath balms and topical products.

“Everyone thinks of the dispensary as a pot shop,” he said. “That’s not the case. We’re educating them (members) about the options available. They’re not wanting to get high, they’re wanting the medicine.”

Wilson said every day there are cancer patients and others suffering from debilitating pain who are coming into WeeMedical looking for help.

“It’s heartbreaking when you hear these stories day in and day out,” he said. “Quite a few of our clients in Campbell River are benefitting by us being local here. It’s definitely helped in this community. The support is there.”

Wilson also said it’s a place in Campbell River where those who carry a medical marijuana prescription can get access to safe, reliable cannabis that is tested.

Before the dispensary opened, those with a prescription had to purchase it through a government-sanctioned grower and receive the product through Canada Post. Wilson said he’s heard stories from people whose orders never arrived or they got lost in the mail.

He urged council to work with medical marijuana dispensaries to adopt a set of business licence standards as Port Alberni has done in order to allow dispensaries to exist in the absence of federal legislation which is expected to come down in the spring of 2017.

The City of Campbell River has thus far taken the stance that selling marijuana is illegal, as per the federal government’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act which prohibits the retail sale of cannabis.

City staff are recommending council uphold the federal government’s position until such time as new legislation is drafted.

Because of the grey area, WeeMedical and Trees Dispensary, which both opened in Campbell River earlier this month ahead of federal legislation being handed down, have both been raided by the RCMP who seized money, cannabis flower and extracts, leaving only edible marijuana products.

Trees, however, has since shut down because it does not want to operate in a community that’s not comfortable with dispensaries.

Wilson said WeeMedical has no intention of closing its doors.

“We know the need is here and we want to stay here in this community,” he said.

City council will make a decision next month on whether or not to adopt city staff’s recommendation to make the dispensaries illegal.