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Do Medical Cannabis Patients Ever Really “Come First?”

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Putting patients first is a mantra that you hear a lot in the cannabis industry, and certainly in Europe. The problem is, no matter how much the “industry” says it, is this really ever true? In multiple places, patients, advocates, and their ilk are up against a for-profit industry that takes no prisoners.

In fact, in Canada, the industry has repeatedly tried to challenge the constitutional right of Canadian patients to access the plant unsuccessfully. Until that goes away, at least in Canada, patients are actually the industry’s biggest, albeit grey market, competition.

In Europe, the conversation is slightly different. However, the discussion is, by definition,  “pro-patient” starting with the fact that most of the bigger companies are public and focused on profits. This means that the industry, certainly within Europe, is looking for ways to preserve its mandate – namely the right to produce, manufacture and distribute (if not export) a product that in its raw form can be grown in a backyard garden, greenhouse, or even indoor grow room without too much difficulty.

As it has elsewhere (see Canada and the United States), this also automatically pits those with capital against those without. There are many, many patient groups who see the future, and it does not include them in it. Being a passive consumer who has to fight paperwork to get a product they might not necessarily want or choose is not the mandate of most activists in this part of the world.

Why should patients organize and fight to normalize an industry that has rarely included them?

That was the question on the table in Poland last week as the first Central European Cannabis Forum kicked off in central Warsaw. Yes, the room was full (of a mostly Polish crowd, but also an international audience). Yes, the big guys showed up, but so did the patient groups and the organizers of the network in Poland. 

Because the industry in Poland is still “illegal” no one is really doing any selling. The patient groups have designed, like elsewhere, efficient non-profit distribution channels that have nothing to do with going public or posting profits, but rather making sure sick people get help.

It is that clash that the industry (everywhere) has yet to address, even though the industry for the most part in Europe is focussed on medical, not recreational. 

Why is that? Because there are still so many patients who have yet to be accepted into the growing medical system. Even when they are, they have to deal with hassles that simply do not exist in the cheaper unregulated market.

Patients, even in a still medical-only market that promises at least to help with the high costs of treatments, are still left in the cold.

Finding ways to incorporate advocate patients into the legitimate industry is in effect, the only answer to help address this important issue. So far, at least, it is a conundrum that neither the business interests trying to solve the problem or patients themselves have adequately answered. But it is the biggest question in the room, no matter the location of the conference.