The recent closure of Trees Cannabis locations has left some Vancouver Island customers scrambling to find the products they rely on for pain relief and symptom management.
Ina Baker, 70, said she stocked up after the first Trees store closed in Victoria. But the Nanaimo-based lung cancer survivor fears the day she runs out of the 3,115 milligram-THC oil she dilutes and consumes in capsules.
“I use a capsule of THC oil every night before I go to bed,” she told Black Press Media over the phone. “It helps with nerve damage as a result of [doctors] removing a part of my lung and the 25 radiation treatments I had in Victoria.
“THC oil provides me with pain relief and a good night’s sleep.”
But with Trees gone, Baker’s options are limited. There are some THC oils available on the licensed market – but few come close to the potency she’s used to.
“I understand and I know in my heart that marijuana needs to be respected, I’m really sorry that Trees didn’t have their licensing,” Baker said. “I’m hoping it’s going to be open in time for me to get my product.”
Trees Cannabis had stayed open while going through the process of obtaining a provincial license, but on July 31, the Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Community Safety Unit (CSU) shut down the location on Alpha Street, seizing all of the store’s cannabis products. At the time, CEO Alex Robb planned to suspend operations at remaining locations two weeks later, but the next day the CSU moved in on the Trees Cannabis on Yates Street.
To avoid jeopardizing the licensing application, Robb closed the rest of the Victoria locations that day. Not long after, he suspended operations at Nanaimo stores as well.
Marilou Gagnon, a registered nurse, substance use researcher and associate professor at the University of Victoria, said from a public health standpoint, the province’s swift shutdown was not managed thoughtfully.
“You have basically removed the access point for people who were very used to [the products],” she noted. “Of course there’s a licensing process, no one is going to say that doesn’t exist. People should follow the rules, but … I think closing the way they did goes against a public health stance.”
Gagnon added a conscientious approach to legalization includes a harm reduction plan, but with all Trees locations quickly shuttered following the government shutdowns, there may be more harm than good for regular customers.
“People [are] without their access point, without their trusted relationship, without any warning, without any options of planning for having another access point,” she said. “From a public health standpoint, it’s a big fail on all levels. You’re cutting people from their trusted supply. You’re potentially pushing them to an unregulated supply, or you’re going to make them unable to access a product that is legal in Canada.”
K.D. Smith from Langford is weighing her options for high-potency THC oils in the wake of the closures and said she will likely have to pay at least twice what she was when she bought her preferred product at Trees.
“It’s now twice the amount it was,” she said. “A lot of people are pensioners, they can’t afford to buy it as it is priced now.”
Smith suffers from fibromyalgia, arthritis and leukemia. She uses the pills topically for pain relief.
“It worked really well because I could put it on the area I was having trouble with and within half an hour, basically the pain was gone,” Smith said. “Now I’m needing a painkiller.”
One way Gagnon said the government could have mitigated public health impacts was by providing a set closure date for unlicensed retailers.
“I think that would have shown [they were] doing their homework, knowing the potential impact, avoiding harm, reducing costs, reducing job loss, all these things should be priority for a government,” she said.
At the time of the first shut down, Robb told Black Press Media that he hopes to see Trees Cannabis licensed by early November. The retailer is still in the financial screening process of its licensing application.