UBC study finds dispensaries have better weed, higher prices
The study compares experiences of home growers, buyers from dispensaries, Health Canada’s licensed producer, and black market suppliers
By Scott Johnstone
July 11, 2017
As of March 31, 2017, Health Canada has reported a total 167,754 clients registered with licensed producers, yet scientists estimate more than half a million Canadians use cannabis for therapeutic purposes (CTP). Researchers at the University of British Columbia are taking steps to find out why roughly two thirds of CTP users seek medicine from sources the federal government calls ‘illegal’.
Canada’s earliest dispensaries predate the country’s earliest legal medical cannabis framework by half a decade—when the MMAR regulations came into effect in 2001, a small few dispensaries in BC and Ontario already had memberships in the thousands, and had already celebrated their five year anniversaries. Today there are dozens of dispensaries across Canada serving hundreds of thousands of CTP users. This new study explores what some Canadians prefer about shopping at dispensaries, and what others prefer about non-dispensary sources. (Specifically, growing one’s own, having a third-party grower, or buying from a street dealer, a producer licensed by Health Canada, or a friend.)
A public survey was conducted asking respondents to rate their sources for quality and availability of product, safety and efficiency of access, cost, and feeling respected while accessing. Of the 445 respondents, 215 accessed their cannabis through dispensaries, and 230 accessed other sources. Lift News breaks down the results:
Of all respondents, 96% rated the quality of products received from dispensaries as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, with home-grown following close behind (92% for cannabis grown by a friend, 89% for self-grown). In stark contrast, the Health Canada producers received the lowest quality rating at just 20%, edged out by street dealers at 21% approval.
The safest form of access reported by those surveyed was having a friend or third-party grower, with 94% having expressed approval. Dispensaries were hot on the heels of growers at 91%, and with buying from a friend, growing for oneself, and buying from a licensed producer all scoring in the range of 60-70%. Predictably, street dealers scored the lowest perception of safety, with less than 5% approval.
Another near tie between dispensaries and third-party growers, dispensaries topped the board at 94%, while growers came in at 89%. Buying from a friend, growing for oneself, and buying from Health Canada also landed in a similar cluster, this time ranging from 50% to 62%. Once again street dealers scored the lowest, with roughly 13% approval among respondents.
At 90%, dispensaries had the highest rate of approval in this category too. Reaching a tie for second place, both self-production and third-party growers received 83%. There was also nearly a third place tie between buying from a friend and buying from a licensed producer, at 46% and 45%, respectively.
In the one category where dispensaries suffered low approval, cost satisfaction was dominated by growers. Third-party growers received 75% approval, while growing for oneself received 71%. Health Canada’s producers had the next best pricing, with 55% approval. Buying from a friend also received higher ratings, at 42% compared to the 38% dispensaries received.
Yet another category topped by a narrow margin between dispensaries and third-party growers, 91% were left with a feeling of having been respected after visiting a dispensary, and 88% when dealing with a third-party grower. Growing for oneself and buying from a friend were not too far behind at 71% and 74%, respectively, while Health Canada’s producers came in at 55%, and street dealers at just 12% approval.
In all categories except cost, dispensaries and third-party growers consistently received the highest approval ratings, and in all categories except quality, street dealers received the lowest.
The survey also asked respondents to provide information about their social demographics, physical health, and typical cannabis use. Results showed that respondents who buy at dispensaries were older, were more likely to have discussed medical cannabis with their health care provider, and were more likely to have received CTP authorization from Health Canada under federal regulations.
Respondents who shop at dispensaries were found to be more likely to use cannabis to treat symptoms of HIV/AIDS and arthritis, to use larger amounts of cannabis for their treatments, and to place greater importance on access to specific strains of cannabis that are better tailored to their conditions. The study also found that those using dispensaries were less likely to use cannabis to treat mental health conditions.
Another interesting detail that emerged through the study is that dispensary users identified access to a variety of strains as being an important factor.
Among the conclusions drawn by this study is the suggestion that with the high level of endorsement by patients, future regulations should consider including storefront dispensaries as an authorized source of CTP, and that self-production and third-party growers are important for maintaining affordable access.
The study’s lead author, PhD candidate Rielle Capler, formerly acted as spokesperson for the BC Compassion Club Society, with whom she worked for eight years in the early aughts. She is also a co-founder of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.
“Under the old regulations,” said Capler, “patients are saying they could grow it for $2 a gram, and get the amount that they need and the quality that they need in a timely fashion. The cost under the new regulations is prohibitive for many patients, and the availability of product from suppliers has been limited.”
The study calls for further research to estimate the extent to which the addition of the licensed producers in current regulations have altered the role and perceived value of dispensaries within the Canadian medical cannabis system.
Another study is currently collecting data from dispensary users in Vancouver, the Vancouver Dispensary Users Study.
“We really need this empirical data,” Capler told Lift, “to help inform policy makers as they deliberate on distribution systems under legalization.”
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