Long before she served as an expert witness in the landmark case that saw a federal judge rule that Canadians have a constitutional right to grow their own medical marijuana, it was the unexpected advice of a doctor that led Jamie Shaw to visit a compassion club for the first time.
The lobbyist, writer, and communications expert has spent almost 20 years in the cannabis industry, working to create more streamlined access to marijuana, both locally and nationally. Seated across from the Straight at a West Broadway cafe, Shaw remembers the day she tried to keep a straight face when her doctor said pot might be the solution to what she was experiencing at the time.
The licensing process has proven to be a challenging hurdle for many dispensaries to overcome, but Shaw remains committed.
“I’ve been helping people get through the [licensing] process, so if they get rejected and go to the board of variance, I’ve been representing a lot dispensaries there,” she says.u
She calls the regulations “a work in progress”, and admits there is work to be done with regard to the supply chain, but what she’d like to see ahead of Prime Minister Trudeau’s proposed legalization has less to do with dispensaries, and more to do with the social aspect and culture that comes with cannabis.
“I’d like to see Vancouver have a head start on vapour lounges, edibles, and cafes,” she says. “These things have been developed, and the city could learn from these models now while they’re trying to figure out how to do these things in the future.”
Shaw says another avenue that should be explored with regard to cannabis is its ability to be used as an opiate replacement, and with no end in sight to the fentanyl crisis, she says it’s one worth considering sooner rather than later.
“We know that cannabis can be used as an opiate replacement, and I would like to see programs working with Insite, going a step further, where we are not just saying, ‘try to get off these harmful drugs’, but using cannabis to help people do that,” she says.
One of the greatest problems with access, Shaw says, is that the College of Physicians continues to advise people that cannabis isn’t appropriate for certain conditions, including anxiety and addiction.
“We’ve got the College saying that if someone has any kind of addictive issues, they shouldn’t be prescribed cannabis—so all of the people that used it to quite smoking, and all of the people that used it to quit drinking, or to get off of opiates, should not have been allowed to have it? It’s a very strange position for them to take,” she says.
Despite these sentiments, Shaw has seen firsthand the way access to medical cannabis has positively affected people’s lives.
“When I worked at the compassion club, one day a week, I’d work at the desk and serve on the front lines, and you’d hear a new story every day,” she recalls.
“But I’ve also seen it with my dog, who couldn’t walk and got another year and half of quality life from tinctures, or my relative who had been over-prescribed opiates in the United States and had major issues with her heart and her liver because of it. Now she’s on pot cookies.”
It’s these, and other success stories, that have kept Shaw in the industry for so long.
“I like being on the front lines of something, and doing things that are pushing boundaries, and when you see the difference that it can make in people’s lives, it’s phenomenal.”
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