A new chain of Montreal-area medicinal marijuana clinics hasn’t yet opened, but its methods are already being challenged by Quebec’s college of physicians.
And while the man behind these clinics says he’s complying with the rules outlined by Health Canada’s medicinal cannabis program, he also admits that some of the doctors he works with are based out of province and will prescribe the drug via Skype teleconference.
This practice is illegal, according to the Collège des médecins du Québec.
“Doctors prescribing cannabis to a patient in Quebec have to be based in Quebec. The rules are pretty clear about that,” said Caroline Langis, a spokesperson for the college. “A doctor needs to be a member of the (physicians college) and abide by its rules. There’s no getting around that.”
The clinics’ co-founder, Antonio Bramante, says Quebec’s strict guidelines around medicinal cannabis have forced his hand.
“It’s so difficult in Quebec to see a doctor that they force the patients to go out of province,” said Bramante, the co-founder of the Natures Decision clinic set to open in Ville Émard this week. “Because we have such difficulty working with doctors in Quebec, in some cases it is a doctor out of province.”
For the past year, Bramante has made a business of connecting Montreal patients to doctors who can prescribe them medicinal marijuana.
Bramante says he has about 200 clients and charges between $99 and $299 a year to help find them a doctor who will prescribe them the drug under Health Canada’s medicinal cannabis program. Patients who can’t afford the fee are sometimes referred to a doctor free of charge, Bramante says.
This week, Bramante will open a clinic on de l’Église Ave. in Ville Émard, and he says he will launch clinics in St-Laurent and on the South Shore later this winter. The Ville Émard clinic is operating with a permit from the city and only refers patients to producers licensed by the federal government, Bramante said.
Bramante says he’s simply trying to help those who suffer from chronic pain to find an alternative to opiate-based painkillers like OxyContin.
“People overdose on those pills, they die from them,” Bramante said. “We just want to give them another option.”
The clinics aren’t Bramante’s first venture into the marijuana business.
In 2010, Bramante was among those arrested when police raided a cannabis dispensary in Lachine. Bramante, a former real-estate agent, says he merely helped the dispensary’s owners find a locale for their dispensary.
Crown prosecutors charged him with trafficking marijuana, but the case was later withdrawn. Though he wasn’t convicted of trafficking, Bramante lost his real-estate licence because of the arrest.
“It was ridiculous. I had nothing to do with it,” Bramante said. “As far as I was concerned, I did my due diligence. It was legal as far as I could see. I got the blessing from my director at the broker house and we went ahead. I didn’t just go off on a whim.”
Since losing his licence, Bramante said he has been working as a real-estate consultant and a business consultant with startups.
The Natures Decision clinics will not be storefront dispensaries, Bramante said. He says there will be doctors on site and that he will only connect patients with growers licensed through Health Canada.
“We’re hoping to help patients access their medicine, that’s all we want to do,” Bramante said. “I’ve done this for a year, but it’s been under the radar. I’ve driven patients to see doctors. Some of our patients are elderly people in chronic pain. We’re very compassionate and we’re not skirting the rules.”
There are about 3,000 Quebecers licensed to use medicinal marijuana.
Doctors in the province can only prescribe cannabis once all other options have been exhausted. In the rare cases a patient is licensed to use the drug, they must submit to a research protocol that tracks how the cannabis is interacting with other drugs.
“There’s a whole system of doctor’s follow-ups and supervision that these clinics don’t appear to be following,” Langis said. “The rules are in place for a reason.”