Study Investigates Barriers to Medical Marijuana Access in Canada

CANNABIS CULTURE – Do you use cannabis for medical purposes? A coalition of health groups is asking for the help of Canadian medical marijuana users in a new study about barriers to accessing the drug.

The study was created by researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan and the Canadian AIDS Society and has the backing of a varied group of partners including the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, Canadians for Safe Access, the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, and the Canadian Treatment Action Council.

Researchers will collect data from a comprehensive online survey filled out by anyone who lives in Canada and uses cannabis for medical purposes. The information will be used in a study that will focus on difficulties in accessing cannabis.


The national survey was created by cannabis activist and researcher Rob Callaway with a grant from UBC Okanagan’s Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention, based on another study created by Lynne Belle-Isle of the Canadian AIDS society.

“The academic literature is almost silent on the topic,” Callaway told Cannabis Culture. “The cannabis community is well aware of the Hell people go through trying to get access to cannabis, the sick are well aware, some of the court cases have make some lawyers and judges well aware, but by and large, people in academia have no clue.”

Callaway said information collected in the study is intended to add to the base of knowledge in the academic literature and will be helpful in in future studies, court cases and political initiatives on the subject.

“When it’s completed, it will be the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted in Canada … to document in the literature the barriers people encounter while trying to access cannabis,” Callaway said.

The study takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete and includes a wide range of questions about topics including where patients acquire their medicine and interactions they’ve had with medical professionals in relation to medical marijuana. The questions were developed, in part, with a community board of activists, researchers, medical marijuana growers and patients from across the country.

Anybody who is Canadian and “uses cannabis for what they themselves would consider some form of medical use” is invited to participate in the survey. “They don’t have to have their Health Canada card or a recommendation by a physician,” Callaway said.

Callaway said the information will be analysed and the findings presented publicly and published in a journal.

“Because it’s a national study, we’re hoping to acquire a lot of data that hasn’t been found before,” he said.

In the recent court case of R. v. Mernagh, an Ontario judge ruled Canada’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) “constitutionally invalid” due to patients having trouble accessing the drug. The judge said the “overwhelming refusal” by doctors “to participate in the medicinal marijuana program completely undermines the effectiveness of the program.”

The government of Canada has proposed a number of changes to the MMAR that have many medical cannabis users worried, including ending personal cultivation and building a system of private for-profit medpot dealers.

Watch an episode of Cannabis Culture News LIVE featuring an interview with researcher Rob Callaway (interview starts at 24:00):

Jeremiah Vandermeer is editor of Cannabis Culture. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.