For months, Taylor toured BC’s Kootenay region, saddled with videotapes, graphs, charts and information about medical marijuana, teaching patients how to apply to the Canadian government for a license to use marijuana legally. The college classrooms were wall-to-wall with people who suffer from chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, hepatitis, depression and a host of other marijuana-treatable illnesses.
The well-known and well-respected Taylor had no problem holding the attention of every student for several hours. Taylor has over 20 years experience with canna-activism: he created one of Canada’s first legalization organizations in the early 80’s, was arrested for growing industrial-grade cannabis in 50-foot-high letters that spelled “HEMP” on the front lawn of his ranch in 1995, served as Mayor in his rural home town of Grand Forks from 1997 to 1999, created the Grand Forks Cannabis Research Institute in 1998, co-founded the Canadian Cannabis Coalition of compassion clubs, and was leader of the BC Marijuana Party in the 2001 provincial election.
Taylor’s advice was both practical and shocking. In dozens of calls to Health Canada, Members of Parliament, insurance companies and other marijuana experts, Taylor patched together answers to the most unlikely and important questions asked by patients applying for medical marijuana licenses and by those who hope to profit from growing marijuana on their behalf.
I saw students’ eyebrows lift when Taylor told them that people with sexual disfunctions might be able to apply for medical marijuana from the Canadian government. Taylor smoothly led into frank sex-talk by discussing the three categories under which patients might apply for exemptions to use marijuana.
The first category is for applicants who have less than 12 months to live, no matter what their ailment. These applicants need only the support of their family doctor. The second requires the backing of a specialist, and is only for those who suffer from specifically listed illnesses like multiple sclerosis, cancer or AIDS. The third category requires two specialists to declare conventional treatments haven’t worked, and pertains to chronic conditions like anorexia, alcoholism and other addictions, depression and impotence. Taylor showed a Viagra commercial from television during his class, smiling wryly while it played.
“Clearly the drugs out there at this point being offered to people have to be looked at for the potential cannabis has to fulfill the same needs,” Taylor told his class. “Clandestinely, doctors prescribe them for heroin addicts all the time. Sex and addiction are two areas in which cannabis has proven benefits. In fact, Lester Grinspoon’s putting together a whole book right now about the effects of marijuana on the libido.”
(Lester Grinspoon is a famous Harvard professor who wrote groundbreaking books about med-pot starting with Marijuana Reconsidered in 1971; he has continued to fight for the rights of medical cannabis users for the last 40 years.)
With a rash of anti-drug propagandists warning about the dangers of smoke, many medical pot patients have taken to baking their favorite buds into cookies. Brian Taylor isn’t against a few chocolate chips in your prescription, but he makes a good argument for smoking your medicine instead.
Among the benefits, he lists quicker relief from symptoms as smoke will take effect while the cookie is still digesting in your stomach. Taylor says toking lets you regulate your dosage more accurately, as anyone who has eaten too much pot cake can attest. Smoking cannabis also relieves nausea, but eating too much cannabis can sometimes induce vomiting.
Brian also warns that Health Canada’s confusing and contradictory rules mean that cannabis butter ? a common ingredient in medical snacks ? is okay for licensed patients to make, but other forms of concentrated THC, like hash or weed oil, are not permitted.
“We asked why,” said Taylor, “and they haven’t answered. All they say is ‘our regulations say no concentrating.'”
Regardless, Taylor described an excellent process for making cannabis tincture that will allow patients to regulate dosage while avoiding smoke. He demonstrated a specially built trichome box that he sells through the Cannabis Research Institute (CRI). The box holds buds on a screen, letting trichomes spill through and stick to a mirror on the bottom of the box. “Mix in trichomes at a ratio of one teaspoon of trichomes to five teaspoons of alcohol, and then put your tincture in a small spray bottle,” he instructed. “One spray is roughly equal to one puff.”
Taylor claims that his tincture-spray wins hands down over the cannabis inhaler being produced by the British research company GW Pharmaceuticals. GW’s version monitors each hit by computer and provides cannabinoid mixtures without delivering a high.
“People think if you’re getting happy while you’re getting healthy that you’re only doing it to get happy!” says Taylor, shaking his head.
“The most touching stories I’ve heard are from the students who attend my class,” said Taylor during a break.
He related how one student with glaucoma relied on cannabis because he couldn’t afford $600 per month for pharmaceutical meds while surviving on only a $900 monthly disability pension. For him, cannabis wasn’t just a fun way to get medicated, it was saving him from making a choice between going blind and starving to death.
During his class, Taylor hands out an anonymous questionnaire to get more information from his students. It contains questions ranging from “do you grow cannabis?” to “are you a DEA agent?”
“I found that roughly 60% of people attending my classes were too intimidated to even talk to their doctors about using marijuana to treat their illnesses,” he explained.
Many doctors are not too enthusiastic about talking with patients about pot either, especially since last year when the College of Physicians and Surgeons threatened to put doctors who prescribe cannabis on a punitive list (CC#32, Med-Pot Madness in Canada). To make matters worse, it sometimes takes over a year to get an appointment with a specialist.
“We have a number of people who followed our advice of applying even though they don’t have a specialist on board,” Taylor said. ” I tell them to indicate what specialist they intend to have support them, and send in documentation of their condition. In response, Health Canada has been extremely impersonal, they simply quote the parts where the applications are deficient.”
Taylor continued to explain why having an active application is so important. “What happens is that these people have an open file, and it will stay open for a month and half, before they close it as being dormant. During that month and a half, they send you a request for more info, and you simply keep a dialogue with them to keep your file open. I would assume that if law enforcement came across your grow-op, and you had an active application with Health Canada, and you were complying with the plant numbers in your application, you are probably as close to legal as you could get without having a license.”
Taylor is collecting names of patients who have difficulty finding a supportive physician, to make a presentation to the government and take other forms of group action. Taylor believes that Canada’s medical marijuana laws, while more enlightened than almost any other nation, are still too impractical for most to even bother applying.
“Currently there are 1,000 medical marijuana licenses, but there are approximately a million current users,” he said. “Furthermore one in seven, or 4.7 million Canadians, could be eligible for legal medical marijuana!”
“Some people buy grow units thinking they can make a living growing for medical exemptees,” Taylor told the class. “Forget it. Health Canada says they don’t want anyone making money from growing pot.”
The laws provide for patients to designate a grower, he explained, but each grower can only grow for one patient, and only three patients or designated growers can farm in one location.
“Patients can pay their designated growers for capital costs, expenses, hydro, nutrients and labor, but the bottom line is they figure it should only cost about $1,200 a year to grow pot for a single patient.”
The med-pot regs currently stipulate a maximum dosage of five grams per day, after which your doctor has to sign a special form saying that he recognizes the respiratory and other risks of smoking large amounts of cannabis and has taken them into account. Assuming a dosage of one to five grams per day, and maximum payments to a designated grower of $1,200 CND per year, means that growers would receive between $3.30 to .66 cents per gram ? making med-pot growing a labor of love, not profit!
“But what about people who are too sick to grow and don’t have family or friends for support?” asked Taylor. “There is really no answer for those people. You have to grow for yourself.”
He advised his students to keep their grow-ops under cover from snoopy and potentially hostile landlords whenever possible. “Under the early stages of the new program, patients had to ask their landlords for permission. They were being told ‘not only do we not want you to grow here, but we want you to move out.’ So Health Canada changed that, unless you are a designated grower for someone else. Then you still have to ask for permission.”
The pot professor truly thought of everything, including asking insurance companies if they would pay out on a medical grow in the case of a burglary. “‘Would you cover house plants?’ we asked. ‘Yes we would,’ they answered. ‘Would you cover marijuana plants?’ They didn’t answer.”
Taylor shrugged his shoulders and then listed the difficulties of growing in compliance with regulations: there’s an outdoor limit of 10 plants at the five grams per day dosage limit, which means 250 grams per plant ? “that’s a christmas tree!” barked one student ? and regulations against growing near to schools ? “but everyone knows that’s the best place to buy pot!” exclaimed another. Also, there are no legal sources of seeds or clones, he said ? evoking a general groan from the class.
“Maybe what Health Canada meant us to do,” Taylor suggested, “was get together and share clones and seeds.” To that end, Taylor provides a referral service through CRI for licensed patients to trade cannabis genetics. It is important for patients to know what they are getting so that they can experiment with what strains are best suited to their medical conditions.
Pot for the people
Originally, the Cannabis Research Institute was Brian Taylor’s attempt to grow pot for the Canadian government. He provided all of the information and expertise that Health Canada wanted, but then they raised the requirements, adding a million dollar assurance as a necessary part of the application. Prairie Plant Systems in Flin Flon got the contract and CRI was left out. Taylor sued under NAFTA but lost “on a technicality.” According to world-trade judges, he didn’t file his papers on time.
Now the CRI is providing other useful services, including indoor grow units that produce bud according to Health Canada’s standard requirements for licensed med-pot users: no more than 25 plants growing at any one time. His easy to use units hold 8 clones, 8 plants in vegging and 8 plants in flowering simultaneously, leaving one plant for a mother. He pitches his units to an eager class while handing out Cannabis Culture, Hydro Times and Maximum Yield, praising them as the best grow-tip magazines on the market.
“Most patients want to grow for themselves,” said Taylor after the class. “For a lot of people their hobby of growing has brought some meaning to lives that are wracked by pain, chronic conditions and terminal illnesses.”