Licensed cannabis oil too scarce, expensive for medical users

published on January 27, 2016 by Mike Hager in The Globe and Mail

Every two months, Chris Skidmore crushes about half a kilogram of dried marijuana, soaks it in isopropyl alcohol, then strains the liquid through a coffee filter and into a rice cooker to burn off the remaining fumes – creating his own cannabis oil. He swallows a few drops of the oil every morning before breakfast, along with a cocktail of vitamin, fish oil and glucosamine chondroitin pills, to treat his HIV symptoms.

Mr. Skidmore said he was diagnosed with HIV a decade ago and soon turned to medical marijuana, but he gave up smoking the drug about five years later, switching to oils because they didn’t leave him congested.

“When I started eating it, a whole bunch of things stopped; I could breathe again and I didn’t get my sinus problem any more,” said Mr. Skidmore, an entrepreneur who lives in Port Coquitlam and makes greenhouses for licensed marijuana growers.

The federal medical marijuana program, which allows licensed growers to sell pot through the mail, was initally restricted to dried pot, but a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year cleared the way for access to ingestible forms of the drug.

However, while most producers are able to produce oil, only three have been given the green light to sell it. And what little product is available has sold out quickly, making it difficult for patients to access it.

Health Canada said it’s too early to provide stats on how much oil has been sold by the three producers that can legally sell oils. A spokesman said in an e-mailed statement that the department is in the process of scheduling and conducting further inspections to approve applications for another 11 growers.

Mr. Skidmore, a cannabis advocate for several years, says he can’t afford the cannabis oil sold by a handful of Canada’s licensed commercial producers, and every patient he knows buys their oil from illegal dispensaries or small-scale producers such as himself.

Using marijuana he grows with a licence under the old federal medical marijuana system, the material in each batch costs him about $100, which he says works out to an overall cost of about $5 to $10 per gram of oil, depending on how the process goes. That’s much cheaper than the $25 to $50 per gram at Vancouver’s dispensaries, or the $90 charged by one licensed producer, Mettrum, for one 40-millilitre bottle of oil, the cheapest rate offered through Health Canada’s system.

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