Some Canadians say greed is taking over Health Canada’s medical marijuana program.
Patients just need a doctor’s signature to obtain the drug, but finding a physician willing to sign can be tough. Now, an exclusive Global News investigation has discovered some patients are having to pay hundreds of dollars just for that signature.
Suffering from multiple sclerosis, Marie Cole was desperate for help. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was really messed up and I wasn’t able to see right.”
“My eyes kept falling like they wanted to roll back in my head. Like, I couldn’t keep them open. My eyes would get really watery. I’d kind of have numbness in certain parts of my body,” recalls Cole.
“Sometimes I’d have problems walking… When I would drink water sometimes I wasn’t able to completely drink it, sometimes there would be a little bit that would come out of my mouth.”
After hearing from other patients that marijuana could help, she decided to give it a try. She says it worked. “There was so much pain…I didn’t know when it was going to stop (or) if I should go to the hospital, because it’s really, really strong and you just don’t know what’s going on.”
“It worked so good that I couldn’t even believe I didn’t have to wait. I didn’t even finish smoking the joint. I hit it three times and it was gone. I was so shocked.”
But Cole says she felt blindsided trying to access Health Canada’s medical marijuana program. “I felt like I was a part of a scam or something, honestly.”
All of her doctors refused to sign the government paperwork needed for a legal marijuana licence. “A couple of doctors I went to (made) me feel bad because I’ve kind of asked them about it. Marijuana for medicinal purposes – they don’t agree with it. So they kind of make me feel like I’m trying to do something shady here.”
But then, she heard about Dr. Ira Price, a physician she says is known for being sympathetic to cannabis as a medication.
She made an appointment, but the address she was given wasn’t for a doctor’s office at all. It was for a law firm.
Cole recalls, “As I was sitting down, he said ‘OK, I need the $1,000.'”
“I stopped and said ‘What? $1,000? What are you talking about?'”
“He was like, ‘It’s $1,000 to fill out the paperwork.’ And I’m like, ‘$1,000 for what? What are you doing? Seriously, I can fill out the paperwork myself.'”
Global National’s Jennifer Tryon asked criminal lawyer Ron Marzel to explain why he was intervening in medical appointments, and why patients were being charged for a program that’s supposed to be free and accessible.
“Listen, I will help people who want to be helped. There’s a market for it. There’s no question that there’s a market for it,” Marzel said.
Global News has learned that since few doctors are willing to grant patients access to Health Canada’s medical marijuana program, that Marzel developed a network of doctors, including Price, willing to approve for cash. He does the paperwork, and they all profit.
Cole says, “People like me, we don’t have a lot of money. We can’t afford this. It’s ridiculous.”
Price says he doesn’t charge to sign. But a Global News producer, posing as a patient at Price’s clinic, was charged $339.
Global News discovered the clinic’s sole intent is to sign the forms patients need to access Health Canada’s medical marijuana program.
Price says, “I don’t have any financial motivation in the clinic whatsoever. I’m assuming it’s a free market. If they want to charge a certain amount and a patient is willing to pay for it, or a client, it doesn’t have to do with me.”
Both Price and Marzel say the Health Canada program is confusing and riddled with red tape, so they’re helping patients navigate it.
The federal government is promising improvements, but Colin Carrie, the health minister’s parliamentary secretary, says he didn’t know how badly the system was being abused. “What you’re telling me, I’m totally unaware of,” he said.
“We need to make a change… So what Health Canada is going to be doing over the next 18 to 24 months, we’re going to be phasing in a new program… so (medical marijuana) is designed more like a real drug.”
Cole is hopeful changes are on the way. She says the marijuana has made a world of difference relieving the pain of MS. “It’s the only thing that does that.”
Not all doctors are opposed to medical marijuana. However, since there are no guidelines, physicians are unsure what it should be prescribed for, or even how much.
In the second part of her special report, Jennifer investigates how drug dealers are exploiting medical marijuana, and how they’re making huge profits off a program that is supposed to help sick and dying Canadians. Watch her story on Wednesday’s Global National at 5:30 PT/MT/CT, 6:30 ET/AT.
Read it on Global News: National | EXCLUSIVE: Patients charged to access Health Canada’s medical marijuana program
– Article from Global.