What started out as a two-day medical marijuana clinic has become a full-time operation in Greater Sudbury.
Brian Warner, president of Bodystream Medical Marijuana Services, says the Sudbury clinic now has about 3,000 patients. His business, which began in 2012 with one clinic in Barrie, now has 18 across the province.
The patients are mostly age 50 or older, and come in looking for relief from arthritis pain, sleep issues, nausea and a host of other ailments.
What changed since he opened, Warner said, is the fact doctors are a lot more willing to refer people to the clinic.
"When we first started, you couldn't get a doctor referral, now in the past year, it's been mostly doctor referrals,” he said, on the phone from the Barrie site. “I think the doctors in general are getting more educated and realizing more how great an alternative option it is for patients. Particularly if we can get them off opioids and other dangerous drugs. (Marijuana products) are a much safer alternative."
When medicinal marijuana was legalized in Canada, Warner said that physicians were understandably reluctant to give patients a prescription for a drug they didn't know anything about.
"Now that we're here, we can bridge that gap for them,” he said. “We can educate the patient and help them through the process. So it puts the doctor's mind at ease."
While scientific evidence about medical uses for marijuana continues to be gathered, Warner said there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that it offers relief for a host of medical issues.
"We have found it's beneficial for everything from Crohn's and colitis to arthritis —a slew of conditions that people are showing benefits from (using medical marijuana)," he said.
There's no marijuana on site at the clinic. Bodystream only deals with licensed suppliers regulated by the federal government.
Patients who don't have a prescription can come in, fill out forms and get approval provided they can show they have an ailment that would benefit.
"We don't diagnose the condition,” he said. “If the patient has arthritis, for example, we ask them to provide some sort of documentation related to their condition. Then we schedule an appointment, and that usually takes two weeks."
Bodystream issues the prescription, and the supplier mails the products directly to the patient.
While there are other legal clinics in the city, Warner said the dispensaries that are popping up in Sudbury are illegal and get their supply from the black market.
"That's something patients need to know,” he said. “Even if you have a prescription, it's still illegal. You have to purchase from a registered licensed producer.
"There's no difference between buying from buddy on a street corner and one of these dispensaries."
His business won't be affected by the federal government's legalization plans, Warner said.
"The recreational market and the medicinal market are two separate beasts," he said. "People who get it medically (now) will continue to get it medically after legalization."