Why medical hashish packaging poses accessibility points and the way we are able to repair it

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“We’ve had patients using hacksaws, pliers, or vices to get their medication.”

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Max Monahan-Ellison “Packaging is a physical barrier to access,” said Ashleigh Brown, founder and CEO of SheCann Cannabis, a community of over 5,000 patients. Photo by MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE / AFP via Getty Images

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This story is part of TGO’s Medical Cannabis Canada column, which provides an in-depth look at the sector from the perspective of patients, healthcare professionals, policy makers, researchers and professionals who navigate the industry.

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Opening medical cannabis packages is complicated and difficult for many patients, and it is by design.

The Cannabis Act was developed with the aim of preventing young people from entering, protecting public health, curbing the illegal market and ensuring that medical electricity is not misused. As a result, equity and accessibility often take a back seat.

“Packaging is a physical barrier to access,” said Ashleigh Brown, founder and CEO of SheCann Cannabis, a community of over 5,000 patients. “We’ve had patients who actually used hacksaws, pliers, or vices to get their medication.”

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If a patient has pain, tremors, swelling, or other problems with their hands, Brown advises that pinching, twisting, and squeezing are not easy and prevent access to the medication that can help alleviate these symptoms.

A 2019 survey by Health Canada estimated that around a third of patients use cannabis to treat symptoms of arthritis and similar proportions of chronic and acute pain. For respondents and other patients dealing with conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, packaging can be a unique challenge.

“I can’t open my medication and it’s a clear example of the ability to be politic,” says Sarah Colero, a disability and medicinal cannabis attorney who has used cannabis to treat persistent complications like migraines and epileptic tendencies after multiple strokes .

Colero has been prescribed opioids at different times in their lives, and accessible packaging is easy to obtain. “When I was prescribed hydromorphone and oxycodone (prescribed for pain relief), I was unable to open child-resistant containers. So I applied to my pharmacy for child-resistant packaging and was housed, ”she added.

The Cannabis Act is structured so that the medical side mirrors the non-medical system, with the stated intention of reducing the incentive for people to access the medical stream for non-medical purposes.

In practice, “patients are punished for using cannabis over conventional drugs,” says Trina Fraser, cannabis regulation expert, partner at Brazeau Seller Law and board member of Medical Cannabis Canada.

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The solution stems from existing pharmaceutical models where patients in Canada can often request accessible packaging from their pharmacy, but which require a fundamental change in the structure of the cannabis law.

Currently, the law limits manufacturers’ ability to develop patient-centered solutions to problems such as packaging. “Producers have no flexibility in the current regulations,” says George Smitherman, President and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada (C3).

The consultations on the cannabis law, which is pending legal review, have already started. This is an important opportunity to create clear regulatory requirements for the medical access framework that can address patient barriers such as packaging.

“Good advice and reforms lead to better options for all Canadians,” says Brown.

Addressing areas such as packaging, affordability, advanced access points in the medical setting, and dose-adjusted products require regulations that are tailored to meet the needs of the patient community.

“The government believes that it is better to over-regulate and then relax restrictions than to justify it than to under-regulate and then try to increase the restrictions. With this in mind, relaxation of regulations over time is appropriate and expected, ”added Fraser. “Feedback from stakeholders can guide Health Canada on the specific areas where adjustments can be made to improve safe and equitable access for patients without jeopardizing public health and safety.”

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Brown emphasizes how the Cannabis Act review provides an opportunity to balance patient needs, the logistical requirements of licensed vendors, and public health mandates for Health Canada. The C3 team is also on board, and Smitherman notes that the organization supports calls to, among other things, regulate the accessibility of packaging for patients.

And that makes sense. With similar products in the recreational and medical markets and restrictive advertising and communication requirements for licensed cannabis sellers, it can be difficult to differentiate yourself in a crowded market. Sellers provide value to patients through support programs, compassionate pricing, and product selection, among other things.

Reducing regulatory barriers does not mean that every licensed medical seller will choose to offer accessible packaging. However, for those who do, it allows for differentiation and unique value propositions in the market, and most importantly, more effective and tailored solutions for patients.

Max Monahan-Ellison is a highly stigmatized health strategist, co-founder and partner of medical cannabis and emerging therapeutic consulting firm eCB Consulting Inc. and a board member of national nonprofit Medical Cannabis Canada.

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