Quebec hospital’s approval of cannabis use is ‘progressive’ step forward, advocate says

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Section Grower Morgan Blenk inspects a marijuana plant clone before planting it at Tweed Marijuana Inc in Smith's Falls, Ontario, March 19, 2014. By unlocking the once-obscure medical marijuana market, Canada has created a fast-growing, profitable and federally regulated industry with a distinct appeal to the more daring global investor. About a dozen producers of the drug will find themselves in the spotlight this year as they consider going public or prepare to so through share sales or reverse takeovers to capitalize on recent regulatory changes, investment bankers said. Tweed Marijuana Inc, which converted an old chocolate factory into a marijuana farm, led the pack by becoming the first publicly held Canadian company in the sector. Picture taken March 19, 2014. REUTERS/Blair Gable (CANADA - Tags: HEALTH DRUGS SOCIETY BUSINESS AGRICULTURE)

While governments and authorities do everything they can to turn their noses up at the medicinal use of marijuana, the announcement that a Quebec hospital will allow patients to smoke pot is a sign that some in the country's medical community, at least, are willing to embrace it.

Officials at the Sherbrooke University Hospital Centre voted on Thursday to allow the use of a cannabis vaporizer in patients' rooms, if the attending doctor feels the patient is "sick enough" to warrant the use of medicinal marijuana.

Not only did the hospital approve the measure, CBC News reports that the facility's 650 doctors, dentists and pharmacists voted unanimously in favour.

The Sherbrooke, Que., hospital made headlines earlier this year when a doctor allowed a terminal patient to use marijuana from his hospital room.

Charles Bury, the outspoken long-time editor of the Sherbrooke Record, died of terminal cancer a short time later.

"It's a remedy that helps you to relax and you can't help but being nervous and tense when you're put in a position like this," Bury said before his passing. "I've never died before, so I don't know exactly what it's going to be like."

Adam Greenblatt, executive director of the Medical Cannabis Access Society, says the formal announcement is welcome news.

"I think it sets a really excellent precedent for other hospitals in Quebec and the rest of Canada," Greenblatt told Yahoo Canada News in a telephone interview.

"It is extremely progressive on the part of the Sherbrooke hospital, and it really allows for patients to medicate with cannabis on hospital grounds in a safe and dignified way."

Greenblatt noted that cannabis is used by patients at other Canadian hospitals, with doctors and staff turning a blind eye. It was Bury's high-profile nature that forced Sherbrooke's policy into the spotlight.

"It is really good they reacted so positively to it, and didn't put up their guard and pass some conservative policy," said Greenblatt.

The Collège des médecins du Québec has not been as supportive about medicinal marijuana. At a press conference in April, at which officials outlined how and when a doctor can prescribe cannabis, they restated their position.

"The College of Physicians of Québec reaffirm that the use of cannabis for medical purposes is not recognized by the medical profession treatment. However, after obtaining a legal opinion on the subject, the College held its duty to provide a mechanism to comply with new federal regulations and make accessible some dried cannabis patients while recognizing that it is an unrecognized treatment," Dr. Charles Bernard said in a translated statement.

The federal government itself does not necessarily support medicinal marijuana. Earlier this year, Health Canada overhauled the process by which medicinal marijuana users can fill their prescriptions, removing the supply from local growers and giving licences to larger companies. Earlier this month, they moved to further tighten the system by proposing to implement a requirement that producers frequently report the details about doctors who prescribe the drug to provincial authorities.

While the political noose tightens on medicinal marijuana, it is relieving to see at least one hospital make a declarative statement in support.

Sure, even now marijuana use on hospital grounds will be rare. But it will be lawful, permissible and not done while doctors are forced to turn their backs.

That's a good thing for patients like Charles Bury.