Calgary eye surgeon cancels plans for medical cannabis clinic after Chinatown protest

Calgary eye surgeon cancels plans for medical cannabis clinic after Chinatown protest

A Calgary eye surgeon has called off his plans to open a medical cannabis dispensary in Chinatown after members of the community staged a protest against the business Saturday.

John Huang said he'd planned to open a clinic to offer cannabis treatments for medical marijuana users suffering from chronic pain and other conditions, but he doesn't feel the community has enough understanding of cannabis to accept his business.

"As a long-time Calgarian and a member of the general community as well as the Chinese-Canadian community, I chose to respect the concerns of the community there, and this is the reason I chose to withdraw the application," Huang told CBC News.

Huang said he was not aware of any opposition to his clinic until protesters were interviewed by the media on Saturday. He said he had followed the City of Calgary's application process to open a dispensary "to a T," but because the application does not distinguish between medical and recreational cannabis facilities, the community may have got the wrong impression.

"When I did apply there was nothing there that allows you to differentiate. My intention was always to provide only non-THC, CBD oil products to patients that require those products for medical therapy."

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical compound that creates the "high" from marijuana, whereas another compound called cannabidiol, or CBD, does not create a high and is used in various medical therapies.

Huang, a comprehensive ophthalmologist and associate professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Calgary, said there is evidence CBD treatments are beneficial to people suffering from conditions such as chronic pain or childhood seizures. "That was the intent, but unfortunately the City of Calgary has no way to differentiate this."

Nor, he said, did the protesters contact him about his application before putting together a petition taking a stance against the clinic. He noted all the products he planned to use are already legal under existing federal legislation governing medical cannabis.

"Unfortunately there seems to be both misunderstanding and lack of information on the real issues surrounding what the federal government has decided is a legal product," he said.

'The worst kind of consequence'

But Cynthia Shi, vice-president of the Calgary Chinese Union, the group behind the protest, said community opposition is more about worry that cannabis outlets will set the Chinese community back.

"It goes back to Chinese culture," she said. "In China, around 200 years ago we had the opium addiction … the whole nation was addicted to opium. Because of this there came war."

Although a different substance, she said members of the Chinese community do not want to see Chinatown become a place to buy drugs — legal or otherwise.

"People are worried this kind of marijuana store will open the door to the worst kind of consequence."

Zack Moyer, also with the Calgary Chinese Union, said the community did not feel it had been properly consulted by the city surrounding marijuana dispensaries despite widespread public consultations held by the city in April.

"At the very least, we can say there was a lack of transparency in promoting these public consultations because had we heard of it there definitely would have been a response from the community and more opposition to this in public," he said.

He added the prospect of marijuana dispensaries in the neighbourhood makes some people feel "unsafe."

But Huang said he felt the city did its due diligence in consulting with various communities. He said the protests show that incorrect stereotypes about marijuana users as thrill-seeking addicts, and cannabis as an addictive drug, are alive and well. And that could present problems for other cannabis-based businesses in the future.

"If this is the general mindset in the community, I find it unfortunate," he said. "If that's all the general public believes any of these outlets is about, then we have a significant problem where federal legislation that was passed far exceeded where society is at."

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With files from Audrey Neveu and Terri Trembath