Alderville cannabis centre fighting for sovereign rights

by Todd McEwen

NORTHUMBERLAND — When Bob Morrison was asked how he became a medical marijuana patient — his anecdote came with a warning.

“This is not a nice story,” he said.

A little more than six years ago, Morrison, 68, — who once lived in Cobourg, but now resides in the Greater Toronto Area — was asleep in his bed when he says a man entered his room with a hammer.

“He began beating me on the head,” Morrison recalled, “with such force that one of the blows went through my skull and into my brain.

“To this day, I still have a hole in my head.”

Morrison said he was able to fight the attacker and run out of the house — but the man followed with a large knife and stabbed Morrison in the side of the chest, which permanently paralyzed half of his diaphragm.

Somehow, Morrison retreated back to his house and locked the attacker outside. He called police and says the man was arrested and charged, but the attack left Morrison with a paralyzed diaphragm, a depressed skull fracture, 100s of staples and stitches, permanent nerve damage in his arm, hand and head, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Every night when I would hear the slightest sound I thought he had come back to finish me off,” Morrison said.

For about two years, Morrison relied on sleeping pills at night.

“They would knock me out for the night, but I would be a zombie all day,” he said. “I hated the effects the pills gave me.

“But what could I do?”

Then one day, he watched a documentary about medical marijuana and heard it was able to treat people living with PTSD. Morrison had also learned a friend from the Cobourg-area was opening a medical marijuana dispensary and healing centre in Alderville First Nation, so he decided to stop by.

During his trip, he met and spoke with staff and a doctor, and quickly became a member.

Now, he says, he can finally sleep.

“For the lack of better terms, it has given me my life back,” Morrison said.

He was able to kick the sleeping pills and now takes six to 12 drops of CBD/THC (the two most common components in cannabis) oil throughout the day.

“I feel absolutely no adverse side affects at all,” he said.

“My anxiety has left, my fears are so reduced that I feel normal again.”

Since opening in June, Alderville’s Medicine Wheel Natural Healing — located at 8986 County Road 45 — has registered hundreds of patients from across Northumberland County, Kawartha Lakes and Durham Region among others.

“A lot of people don’t have access to doctors that will write a prescription,” owner and operator Rob Stevenson, 37, said.

“My doctor was personally against it.”

Now, the dispensary, or healing centre, is preparing for a grand opening on Aug. 26 from noon to 4 p.m. where it will offer a barbecue, live performances, a 50/50 draw and more. Once there, step inside the healing centre, talk with staff and register as a patient to gain access to a wide selection of medical cannabis in various forms, including: dried sativa, indica and specialized hybrids; shatter; rosin; oil; distillates; gummies; tinctures; syrups, vape pens and edibles.

To become a member, the healing centre will connect patients to a cannabis-educated doctor, Stevenson explained.

“We do that all in-house,” he said.

But, is it legal?

Obtaining a prescription for medical marijuana? Yes.

Opening as a storefront to sell medical marijuana to people with a prescription? Not yet. The federal government expects the laws to change next year.

“Licensed producers distribute medical marijuana by mail to authorized users,” Tammy Robinson, spokesperson for the City of Toronto’s licensing and standards division told the Toronto Star in 2016. “Storefront distribution of medical marijuana is illegal and not permitted.”

But as an Anishinaabe man of the Bear Clan belonging to Alderville First Nation, Stevenson explained Indigenous people have the right to their traditional medicine and health practices, according to the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s a concern,” Stevenson admitted, “but we’re trying to do it differently. I believe strongly in this and I will stand up for my sovereign rights.

“We’re not trying to do it in an aggressive way. We’re a little more quiet and respectful … but we keep having to defend our sovereign rights. We shouldn’t have to do that. We should be enforcing our sovereign rights.”

In order to be proactive, Stevenson said he arranged a meeting with Alderville First Nation council and the local OPP detachment to outline his plans.

“I figured it’s better than living in fear,” he said. “I want to protect my staff as much as I can.”

About one year ago, a dispensary located in a plaza directly across the street from Medicine Wheel Natural Healing was promptly raided and shut down shortly after opening. The owner, Timothy Tucker, was charged with a slew of trafficking charges, but was not an Indigenous person or Alderville First Nation resident.

And last month, Toronto Police charged 80 employees after raiding a cannabis dispensary.

Stevenson, however, said he’s an open book to the community and anyone with questions can talk to him at anytime.

“I’m willing to share my information,” he said. “Just to make sure it’s done in the right light.

“It’s going to be watched very closely from our community and outside our community as well.”

Stevenson explained a partnership with seven Health Canada licensed producers allows them to develop cannabis without pesticides or insecticides and provides people who require specialized cannabis a safer opportunity to obtain it.

“It’s not the black market,” Stevenson said with a laugh. “We have no ties to organized crime or anything like that.”

Stevenson credits an Indigenous medical marijuana boom in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory for birthing a movement across the country and starting an association known as the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association where Stevenson sits as vice president for the Ontario chapter.

“The goal of this association is first of all to help our people,” he said. “It’s going to create a lot of employment and we’re creating a national strategy to fight opioid addiction.”

While both THC and CBD, the primary compounds found in cannabis, have therapeutic effects, the list of symptoms for which there is solid evidence that marijuana helps is short, according to a report published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. According to the report, only three problems — chronic pain in adults, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and spasticity in multiple sclerosis —  were deemed to be treated effectively by cannabis.

The list of therapies for which there was limited, insufficient, or no evidence is much longer and includes Tourette’s syndrome, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, anxiety disorders, ALS and addictions.

“I think at the end of the day everyone agrees that the best medical care is based in evidence. And unfortunately we just don’t have enough for many conditions to guide us,” M-J Milloy, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and a research scientist at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, who studies the effects of cannabis use among people living with HIV/AIDS, said.

As a researcher working with patients who have HIV, Milloy can sympathize with those who turn to cannabis for relief despite research that suggests otherwise. The medical marijuana movement gained momentum in the 1990s by AIDS patients who had little else in the way of effective, tolerable treatments.

Stevenson, a local entrepreneur with various other business ventures outside the medical marijuana industry, said he was previously taking 75mg of anxiety medication each day but has been able to cut the dosage in half since connecting with a doctor who prescribed medical cannabis.

He previously smoked in recreation, he said, and preferred the therapeutic effects of cannabis over his prescription pills, but was frustrated in the process of trying to obtain marijuana that was best suited for his needs.

“You don’t know what you’re getting half of the time,” he said. “By going to a doctor and getting a prescription, you know what you’re getting.”

Asked if the government would help fund opioid treatment programs during a stop in British Columbia earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is no one solution to the problem. Social policies that tackle mental health, housing and economic opportunities are also key components in the fight against the overdose crisis, he said.

Stevenson and other experts, however, say providing easier and wider access to medical marijuana will help combat the opioid and addiction epidemic.

“Currently, people who are addicted to opioids usually get put on methadone or drugs like that,” he said. “Most of those drugs aren’t effective and some people are on them for life.

“It’s really harmful for the body.”

Studies with cannabis, he said, show a success rate of about 63 per cent for fighting opioid addiction.

“It’s not about greed or anything, it’s about helping our people,” he said.

“If we can help our people, that’s what’s important to us.”

While Morrison didn’t overcome an addiction to feel like he’s earned a new lease on life, he expects the healing centre and other Indigenous clinics to help “hundreds of people, if not thousands” who are in similar situations.

“They say your given a second chance because you still have something to do,” he said, “I’m not sure what it is, but I’m thankful for the extra time.”

For more information on the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association, visit indigenousmedicalcannabis.org or visit the Medicine Wheel Natural Healing’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/MedicineWheelNaturalHealing.

— with files from Toronto Star

Todd McEwen is a reporter/photographer with Metroland Media Group’s Northumberland County Division. He can be reached at tmcewen@northumberlandnews.com . Follow Northumberland News on Twitter and Facebook

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