SASKATOON - A Saskatoon company has been granted the first two licences to produce and distribute medical marijuana under new Health Canada pot rules.
Prairie Plant Systems Inc. has been Health Canada's only supplier of pharmaceutical-grade marijuana for 13 years. CEO Brent Zettl says the new regulations mean people won't have to go through Health Canada.
"I think it really heralds the beginning of the new method and the new ways in which patients are going to be accessing medical marijuana in the future," said Zettl.
"Patients now will be able to see their doctor; with the doctors they'll fill in the medical note and they'll be able to actually access medical marijuana directly from the licensed producer, such as ourselves right now. Health Canada is stepping away from being the provider of it and just acting as the regulatory body."
"What it really boils down to is now it's being treated much more like a true pharmaceutical in the way that it's going to be accessed by patients," he added.
Prairie Plant Systems has also launched a subsidiary called CanniMed Ltd., which will be the distribution and support hub for patients and physicians, as well as the brand name of the pharmaceutical-grade pot products.
Zettl says the company had focused on one type of marijuana with the Health Canada contract.
It will soon start selling three brands of pharmaceutical-grade marijuana. Each brand has a different strength of THC and CBD — the active ingredients in pot.
Zettl says that will give patients more choice in how they treat their illnesses.
"Certain people respond better to higher levels of THC for managing pain...and they want the higher concentration — (that's) what we've had from patient feedback — because they actually ingest it as opposed to smoke it, so they want to have a higher concentration to begin with," he said.
"Other patients want to have a high CBD line because they're using it for managing other aspects, such as spasticity."
Medical marijuana can be used to treat pain, nausea and stimulate appetite for people with chronic or terminal illnesses, such as inflammation due to arthritis or the nausea associated with chemotherapy.
Zettl says the company filled more than 11,000 patient orders last year. He expects the number to grow.
Under new federal rules that take effect in April 2014, authorized users of medical pot can no longer grow their own, but must purchase their supply from a licensed producer.
— By Jennifer Graham in Regina