Downtown cannabis centre opens while Chamber leaders talk legal pot

National Access Cannabis opened its storefront in downtown Winnipeg Friday, but for all the talk about pot, there isn't any for sale on site. 

The brand-new location supports patients looking to use medical marijuana to improve their quality of life.

"A lot of people find the system quite difficult to navigate. And what we find is that a majority of our patients have very little experience with cannabis," said Derek Ogden, president of National Access Cannabis.

The membership-based group provides information for medical marijuana newcomers — everything from understanding THC levels to cooking classes for edibles. The centre also offers training for doctors on the licensing process and the benefits of medical cannabis. 

"We only refer patients to health Canada regulated licensed producers. We ensure that it's actually a medical prescription. So they go in and they see a doctor and make sure that they get that proper consultation and everything we do conforms to the regulations," said Ogden.

Ogden said their business has seen steady growth, with their membership base expanding by 10-15 percent on average each month. 

Joey Davis explored the storefront for the first time today, looking for a solution that's proved elusive since his wife was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis in 2008. Her doctor gave her a prescription for the condition, which he said can be quite debilitating, but the side effects looked like they could be worse.

Since the couple had never tried marijuana before, they asked their family doctor about the option. But he didn't know where to begin. 

'I think that there is a lot of promise for medical cannabis but the problem is, it's not conventional. Doctors don't understand that it can be good, that it can be helpful beyond simple pain relief. Because of that I think there is a lot of hesitation in prescribing it and so there's almost no education about it," said Davis.

Local business leaders talk pot

The new shop wasn't the only place where people were talking pot in the city today. Across downtown at the Fairmont Hotel, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce was holding a lunch event with its member businesses about the expected legalization of marijuana and what it could mean for the city.

Keynote speaker Jeannine Machon, the owner of Colorado-based CMT Labs and member of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said there's plenty Canada can learn from the legalization process — but having the federal government on board should make it a smoother process. 

"Our difficulty was that our federal government was kind of on board, and now we're really not sure. The states have being driving the game. And with the ability to have federal oversight, I would think that would make everybody's lives a lot easier," said Machon.

Colorado's budding industry grew to $1.3 billion in 2016. Those revenues netted the state $200 million in taxes, $50 million of which went to schools. 

Machon said that while there are many benefits and economic opportunities here, getting the regulations right can take time.

"One of the things that's so very clear is there is no way to get it all right, right out of the gate. So everybody has to mentally understand that it's going to be a process. It's not going to be 'here we are, we are legal and we've figured it all out.' It evolves as you learn more," said Machon.

Back at NAC, even Ogden said they don't know what regulation could look like when the expected new legislation gets tabled in the next few months. He suspects it could include two paths for marijuana users, one for medicinal purposes and the other for recreational adult use.