For those in the cannabis community, it can be easy to forget how little most people know about medical cannabis.

Mainstream media might touch on legalization or the growing medicinal uses, but those looking to become new patients are still going to have a lot of questions.

“Do I have to smoke it? How do I get a prescription? And what’s an LP?”

The list goes on.

Grow Legally is built around answering those early questions and helping new medical patients get connected to the right doctors and licensed producers.

Green Relief sat down with Stephanie Calibuso from Grow Legally to talk about where an aspiring patient should start.

Green Relief: Welcome back, we’re here at Lift Expo Toronto, here with Stephanie Calibuso from Grow Legally. Stephanie, thanks for joining us.

Stephanie Calibuso: Hi, it’s my pleasure.

GR: For those watching and listening at home, tell us more about Grow Legally and your role.

SC: Okay, perfect. I’m a patient coordinator. I help patients get access to cannabis through the ACMPR Regulation, so we have doctors who are supportive of cannabis. Basically, I prepare the file for the patient, I let them know the regulations, and I give them a bit of education, register them with LPs like Green Relief, let them know how simple it is to register. They can do it right online. We usually do it in the office together, or I walk them through it over the phone. Pretty much that’s what we do. We book the appointment and it goes from there.

GR: Does somebody have to be in the office to register or can it be from outside?

SC: Not at all. We service patients all over Canada. If you register on our website, at growlegally.ca you can actually apply online, and you can fill out all the forms. You can submit all your medical documentation. I will be looking through all of that documentation, and if there’s anything missing I would contact you.

SC: Obviously, before we schedule the appointment we prepare the file. We call the patient in advance. We make sure all the forms are filled out properly. Any documentation we’ll go over if we need some more supporting documentation. We schedule the appointment with the doctor. It’s over Skype, telemedicine, or we also do FaceTime. Whatever is easiest for the patient, we make it happen.

GR: In terms of the medical document, when you say medical document, you mean when somebody’s seen their existing doctor and whether they’ve had a good or bad experience, or they have an existing medical doctor then they come in, or they get the doctor from Grow Legally to prescribe and fill out the medical document?

"All the doctors that we do work with understand that cannabis as an alternative is a lot safer for patients than a lot of the pharmaceutical drugs that are out there."

SC: Yeah. There are different ways that patients can provide documentation. Really, all our doctor needs is just proof that there is a condition. A lot of patients will see their doctor beforehand, and then a lot of doctors are not very supportive of cannabis because of the stigma around it, unfortunately. If they have a letter of diagnosis, if they have past prescriptions that they can even just get printed out from their pharmacy – say they have back pain and they’re seeing a specialist. You can get a specialist report, you can have proof of those appointments. All of those things work.

SC: Also, if a patient is having trouble retrieving that documentation, we do have a form that they can sign that we’ll actually fax over to their doctor and ask for that documentation as well. We try to eliminate any type of roadblocks there are. All of the doctors that we do work with are very understanding, and compassionate and understand that cannabis, as an alternative, is a lot safer for patients than a lot of the pharmaceutical drugs that are out there. Getting a prescription and having our doctor approve is not as difficult as a lot of patients may feel.

GR: You mentioned roadblocks. That’s a word I want to circle back on. I’m sure you’ve heard some stories. What kind of interactions have you had with people that have come in to Grow Legally, or you’ve serviced online, that have had an issue with their existing doctor?

SC: A lot of patients will come to us saying that they’ll speak to their doctor about it, and their doctor will tell them, “I don’t ever want to hear you come back here and mention cannabis, or marijuana to me ever again. This is what you need.” They’ll write them off for some ridiculous prescription drug, even though the patient has said to them so many times, “This is giving me stomach issues, this won’t let me sleep at night, this gives me headaches,” and all these different things. Some doctors are just so afraid of circling out of what they’re used to, and jumping outside of the box a bit, and understanding that there are so many natural benefits from this medicine. Our patients will try to explain this to their doctor and they’ll shut them down, and they’ll feel so discouraged.

"A lot of patients will come to us saying they'll speak to their doctor about it and their doctor will tell them 'I don't ever want to hear you come back here and mention cannabis or marijuana to me ever again."

SC: When they come to me they’re really nervous, and they get all like, “Is this a waste of time? Am I wasting my time here?” As soon as they realize how easy it is, and there are so many people out here who are using it and are advocating for the benefits. I speak to the patient before they see the doctor, and I always have to let them know, “Relax, you don’t have to worry.” They’re like, “What should I say to the doctor? What do I need to do? Tell me what to say to make sure I get this prescription.” I’m like, “Just be honest. That’s all you have to do.” Thankfully, our doctors are really supportive, and they’re so happy to make sure patients are getting the medicine they need.

GR: If somebody has run into that issue with their doctor – there are a few that are the lucky ones maybe that have a GP that will prescribe, who are open to cannabis, but for the majority, like you were saying, with existing doctors that might have an issue – do you have any suggestions for the people that are in that situation, where they’ve just gotten rejected by their existing doctor? What do they do next?

SC: I know what I would do. I would get right on Google. Google is my best friend. I would be on Google, and I would be searching up as much as I can, trying to figure it out. I would be going to events like Lift, and just keeping up with the regulation, and finding out what’s going on in the industry.

"Some doctors are just so afraid of circling out from what they're used to and jumping outside of the box."

SC: People are so confused now, even about the new recreational market coming out. They’re like, “What’s the point of going through and getting a medical prescription and doing all of that when it’s going to be legalized recreationally,” so they say. There’s so many benefits to being a medicinal patient, like the quality that the producers put out, the time and effort that they’ve put into packaging, and the customer service. Feeling that the medicine you’re getting is safe and clean, for your health it’s the most important thing. That’s what I stress to every patient when they’re a bit reluctant, they’re like, “I need this medicine, but I feel like the process is too long and difficult. I could just go down the street and whatever.”

SC: I have to explain to them, “When you’re going through health issues, you want to make sure that you know what you’re putting in your body. The only way to know that is when you’re going through licensed producers, and they can provide the test results, and you can talk to the people that work there, and you can ask them all these questions.” Really, it’s staying involved, and staying in tune with what’s happening right now in the industry. And, like I said, Google.

GR: What suggestions do you have for people that are going to their own doctor for the first time? This is even before they want to go to a cannabis clinic. Do you have any tips or suggestions for somebody to talk to their doctor when bringing up cannabis for the first time?

SC: Be honest. Let your doctor know what you’re using and how it’s helping you, and making them understand that whatever your conditions are, being very specific as to what you’re using, how you’re using cannabis. There are so many different ways to use it. A lot of doctors think you just smoke it, but there are so many different ways to use cannabis. If you’re explaining this to the doctor, and you’re being genuine, and you’re showing, you’re letting your doctor know, this is improving the quality of my life.

"When you're going through health issues you want to make sure that you know what you're putting in your body and the only way to do that is to go through licensed producers."

SC: If your doctor turns you down – my doctor turned me down; I’ll be honest. He won’t even listen to me when I’m explaining to him. He thinks, “You’re young, you just want to use it, you just want to get high,” and whatever the case is. It’s just being honest and letting your doctor know that the effects that it’s doing for you naturally, and how it allows you to live your life, just stressing that and explaining that to your doctor, and comparing it to some of the pharmaceuticals you might have tried, and the side effects from those, and how with cannabis you don’t get those things. I would just say, be honest.

GR: You mentioned how sometimes people are thinking it takes a long time to complete the process. How long is the process, for those that don’t know? How long is the process for somebody coming into a clinic to get seen, get prescribed and, obviously, it will depend on the licensed producer?

SC: The process is rather [quick]. I mean, if you come into our office, or to one of our clinics. You come in, you fill out the forms, you see the doctor same day, he writes the prescription. It takes us about a day to get all the medical documents scanned and sent over to the LPs. Then it’s the LPs processing, so really, two or three days max. What the patient needs to do is sign forms, come in and see the doctor, and that really is one day. As far as from start to end, I would just say a few days. It doesn’t take long at all.

GR: Is it the same for somebody that doesn’t come into the office? Like somebody that’s going over telemedicine or video?

SC: Yeah, the only thing that would make that a bit longer is if you’re going back and forth with documentation. Say they send me their package, and I’m like, “We need this, or this,” or whatnot. That’s really up to the patient. If they get all the forms in properly the first time around, it’s very quick.

GR: Okay. Thank you for your time, by the way. This has been fun. In closing, what are the common questions that you get asked when people come in to the clinic? What are two of the most common questions, and you can give answers to those common questions?

SC: I would say the first one is definitely, “What LP should I choose,” for sure. That’s kind of the second question that we get into, because a lot of patients, when they come in, they don’t even know what an LP is. They’re like, “What are my options?” A lot of the times, at that point, that’s when we go over LPs websites, and the different incentives for patients.

SC: Sorry, got sidetracked. The biggest questions is really, “How do I talk to the doctor? What do I say to the doctor to make sure I get this prescription?” A lot of our patients that come in have tried already with other doctors, or they don’t really know what to say to a doctor. They’re afraid that because they’ve been using it for so long illegally that the doctor may think there’s that stigma around it.

SC: Again, I would just explain to the patient, just be honest with the doctor. When it comes to choosing an LP, the intake method the patient prefers, and then we look at the products that the LP has and go from there.

GR: Lastly, how do people follow you or Grow Legally? Where do they go to learn more?

SC: Yeah, you can go on our website at growlegally.ca. We’re on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We’re everywhere. Just search for Grow Legally.

GR: Well, thank you, Stephanie.