BY PAUL BOREHAM
Comfy “service centres” have been established by one of the largest producers of medical marijuana in the country. Tweed Inc. calls these centres Better by Tweed, with three locations: Guelph, Hamilton and Etobicoke. It’s a face-to-face connection between grower and user.
“Patients can go in and get services, get registered, get information, have a community event there, learn more about the product and about the business,” said Jordan Sinclair, communications manager for Tweed Inc. He stressed they cannot receive their marijuana at the centres.
“We ship all of the product we grow across Canada in the mail to Canadians who are managing a host of different symptoms, provided they have authorization from their doctor,” said Sinclair.
Tweed Inc. moved into the Hershey chocolate plant in Smith Falls, Ont., after its closure in 2010. The company began operations in 2013 and sent their first shipment out in May 2014.
Canadian marijuana legislation in 2001 allowed doctors to prescribe it. Patients could obtain a licence from Health Canada and grow what they needed, or they could use designates who grew it in small amounts, under Health Canada’s supervision. That changed in 2014 when new legislation kicked in stating only growers licensed and regulated by Health Canada could provide the leafy substance. This made way for large producers such as Tweed.
The former chocolate factory is now producing pot in 168,000 sq. ft. of space, spread across 12 growing rooms, with 18 more rooms available. There are 100 employees, including a master gardener and “clippers,” along with office staff. It’s like any other business, said Sinclair. But there is one aspect that is unique.
“Security is one of the primary concerns that created this entire industry. We produce millions and millions of dollars of product, and so we need security to back that up. We’ve got cameras, access points where you need a fingerprint to get through, and we’ve got a vault that is more secure than any bank.” They also happen to be neighbours to the police, which is a coincidence, he said, but one of the greatest assets they have.
Marijuana can treat a range of symptoms, from pain to psychological disorders. “A lot of people could benefit from marijuana and now it’s just about educating doctors and patients to see if they want to make that choice,” said Sinclair, as an alternative to opiates, for example.
The process for obtaining a prescription for marijuana is fairly simple. Forms on the company’s website are filled out and then taken to a doctor for his or her approval. The Better by Tweed service centres are there to make that easier.
Prescribing marijuana is not the easiest task for a doctor, but it has been a positive experience for Sue Stephenson, a family physician in Guelph, who has her office a few blocks away from the Better service centre.
“I have five or six patients who are taking marijuana,” she said. “I let them choose their agency, then we work with them to set up the right amount. It’s much easier once it’s established and we have a good dose.
“The positive value, at least for one of my patients, is that he’s off most of the other medication he was taking, and he doesn’t come in very often, because he’s feeling better. That’s for someone with a significant problem with bipolar disorder and anxiety. He’s gone straight ahead with his life instead of backpedalling for quite a while.”
There are negative aspects.
“I’ve had a couple of requests from people who just don’t want to get into trouble with the law and really don’t have a medical need for it,” said Stephenson, adding, “People will tell you they have pain, but there’s no X-ray to tell you what’s going on.
“My goal is to keep people functional. It’s not my total understanding of marijuana, but people don’t always function that well when they’re on it … so there’s a very thin line between doing the right thing and not doing the right thing.”
The negative societal view on marijuana includes those who work in the medical profession, she said, so that is a barrier. The cost to patients is also prohibitive at $6 to $12 per gram; with no drug plan, users, often not working, said Stephenson, are paying from their own pocket.
As an aside, Stephenson told the story of how she began the process of growing it for patients on her farm, as a licensed designate. Secluded and off the main road it seemed like an ideal place.
“When the plants were ready to be harvested it was robbed,” she said. “They came in, masked. We caught them at it, but they had these big scythes with them and they waved them all around and we just said, ‘Go ahead.’” All the people who had the prescriptions didn’t get it.
That’s one of the reasons it is now being produced by large companies such as Tweed Inc.
Sinclair is heartened by the stories he hears from customers, including this one:
“A veteran suffering from chronic pain to do with a service injury that he’d gotten in Afghanistan said that by using marijuana rather than other medications he’d been on previously, he was able to sleep through the night and wake up and be a better dad. That struck me a lot, and as a father myself, that reinforces the reason you come into work every day.”
The company is advocating for the use of vaporizers to administer the drug, instead of smoking it. They offer these “basically at cost” at their service centres to registered customers and he said they work just as well and are a lot healthier. They will also be introducing an oil that can be ingested.
With the election of the Liberal government and their promise to legalize marijuana, Tweed Inc. is eager to get into the recreational market as well.
“There are a lot of reasons to think that Canada is setting the model for the entire world,” said Sinclair. “Right now, the laws we have seem archaic and it just seems like it’s time for a change.”
Sinclair insists marijuana is not a panacea for patients. “It’s just an option that exists, and for a lot of people it’s the right one.”