The Elk Valley’s first cannabis clinic has officially opened, located just off of Highway 3 in Fernie.
The new shop, Compass Cannabis, specializes in the education, prescription and ordering of medicinal cannabis for users seeking an alternative form of medical treatment.
Brian Jones is the Managing Partner of the new Fernie location and says he’s excited to bring this service to Fernie. An idea planted in the fall of 2017 finally came to fruition.
After opening a location in Banff, Compass realized that the market for medicinal cannabis in resort towns was booming, but without cannabis clinics, the access to medicinal cannabis was very poor.
Compass has chosen resort towns for the majority of its new locations, and is now established in Red Deer, Alta, Banff, Alta, Lake Country, B.C., Dawson Creek, B.C., Kelowna, B.C., and Calgary, Alta.
Compass will soon open locations in West Kelowna, BC, Canmore, Alta, with three shops in Edmonton, Alta, and another in Calgary.
Jones, from Calgary, saw several shops like Compass popping up and decided it would be smart to branch out into Fernie.
“It feels pretty good,” he said, admitting it’s also a bit nerve wracking.
“… It’s always exciting to be the first.
Jones added that Compass would hire up to 10 staff at its Fernie location by next summer.
He explained that they were still jumping over some final hurdles, which included ensuring they abided by local jurisdictions.
His location in Fernie was also carefully chosen, as Compass says it doesn’t want to be in a spot where it’s uncomfortable for the community in the future.
What is Compass?
In simple terms, Compass acts as a liaison between patients, physicians and licensed producers within Health Canada’s Authorized Licensed Producers of Cannabis for Medical Purposes (ACMPR). British Columbia is home to 23 of Canada’s 109 licensed producers.
Today, anyone can visit their family doctor and ask for a prescription for medicinal cannabis. However, Jones says that doctors today aren’t extensively trained about the benefits of cannabis, which is where Compass comes into play.
Jones says that Compass offers not only education on cannabis, but also the step-by-step assistance that some new patients need. They are a medical clinic, that specializes in cannabis education.
“That’s our main thing – to educate people so that they can make their own decisions,” he said.
Compass offers “doctor days”, whereby individuals can sit down with a registered physician in person or over an internet call, explain their symptoms, and request registration. This physician will then write a recommendation based on the patient’s needs and medical history. Compass then educates the patient on what products different licensed producers have: dried marijuana, fresh marijuana, cannabis oil, etcetera.
“It’s overwhelming sometimes, when you don’t know what to start with,” said Jones.
After walking patients through their paperwork, Compass will assign the patient to a licensed producer, whose inventory will become available to the patient online. The patient can then order from home and receive the product within a few days.
Compass’ next doctor day is on June 21. During their first doctor day on June 12, Compass brought on approximately 12 new patients.
How marijuana helped Jones
Jones says that the pharmaceutical industry is fantastic for some, but not a good fit for everyone.
In 2004, he was a victim of a serious car crash that left him at the mercy of relentless chronic pain and migraines.
It wasn’t until Jones realized he had become addicted to opioids while treating the symptoms of his crash, that he looked for an alternative treatment and discovered the world of medically prescribed cannabis and made the switch.
Opiods destroyed Jones’ life, and at one point, he couldn’t tie his own shoes. His now ex-wife took him to the emergency room, a zombie, and was lucky enough to see a physician who was educated in cannabis.
“He signed me up right away for a card and that’s how I found out about medical cannabis, started working towards learning more about it and using it in my own life,” said Jones.
“I’m a fully functional individual. I have an exemption like I said, and I consume every day. I’m perfectly able to do everything.”
Ten years ago, the medicinal cannabis industry was different. The main difference was the way that medicinal users were treated. Nowadays, Jones says the world is much more understanding of this form of treatment.
July legalization – many things still ‘up in the air’
Although the exact date for legalization of marijuana in Canada is uncertain, tentatively set for July 2018, Jones says that they have big plans for their store once this happens.
As soon as marijuana becomes available for recreational use, Jones hopes that Compass will transition from a clinic, to a dispensary. Jones hopes to retain their ability to service medical patients as well as recreational patients.
“Come legalization, and once everything is hashed out, we have the opportunity as a franchise to convert to a Starbuds,” he said.
In January, Compass Cannabis Clinics announced a Canadian joint venture with Starbuds, one of the leading cannabis retailers in the U.S. with 11 locations across the state of Colorado.
In the meantime, Jones says there are several advantages of remaining a clinic. One of these advantages is that Canadians can currently write off a portion of their medications as patients.
Also, if individuals have benefits through certain insurance companies, such as Sun Life, patients can apply to be reimbursed for their medicine.
Jones says this is no small advantage, as a cannabis prescription can cost patients a couple of thousand dollars per year.
Jones says that they’re still unsure at this point just how they will function as a retail marijuana business, as the Government of British Columbia has not yet laid out the rules and regulations for retail marijuana businesses.
From behind the counter
The logistics of the retail system for Canadian businesses is still up in the air.
How do you get the products to the retail store? Who picks up the products? How do they safely get it from point A to point B? These are all questions that remain unanswered.
One hurdle that cannabis businesses deal with is that only a select number of security companies will work with them.
Something not many people consider is how the banking system works for cannabis businesses, says Jones.
“Because we’re technically a cannabis business, we’re at risk of losing our bank accounts at any time,” he said.
Jones has heard of other businesses who have been shut down for having the word ‘Cannabis’ in their business name.
Other businesses that have jumped the gun and switched to a retail dispensary in places like Regina, Saskatchewan, are being shut down on a daily basis.
Jones says this wasn’t a business model they wanted to follow, so they chose to do things by the book and wait until the legalization comes through.
Where can you smoke? Current regulations surrounding smoking in public
The City of Fernie is currently looking at how to manage the use of marijuana in public.
Jones says that many municipalities don’t have any set rules or regulations surrounding the public consumption of marijuana.
“There’s nowhere to consume,” he said.
“There’s no plans for consumption, no vapour lounges, things of that nature.
“So if you don’t own your own residence, you may have a hard time consuming recreational cannabis.”
As of June 14, the City of Fernie had no regulations regarding smoking on public property. The prohibitions set out by the province in the Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Act are the minimum standards and apply to Fernie.
Jones has been told by the City that they will follow the guidelines set by the government; they will not go over-and-above these set regulations.
According to a Council Direction Request on May 29 by Manager of Planning Patrick Sorfleet, changes specific to cannabis are being considered.
Here is a list of the places in Fernie where smoking is currently prohibited:
1. School property
2. Health Board Property
3. In any building, structure, vehicle or any other place that is fully or substantially enclosed and
a. is a place to which the public is ordinarily invited or permitted access, either expressly or by implication, whether or not a fee is charged for entry
b. is a workplace, or
c. is a prescribed place, or
4. Within six metres from a doorway, window or air intake of a place described in paragraph a.
More specifically in relation to the public consumption of Cannabis, the provincial framework to date for retail cannabis includes the ability to smoke cannabis in some public spaces, namely those places where tobacco smoking and vaping are permitted. In the absence of a bylaw prohibiting cannabis consumption in parks and public spaces, this will become legal in Fernie.
As of press time, council had not addressed this report.
Further information surrounding this Council Direction Request will be published at a later date.