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EXCLUSIVE: Quebec Cannabis Registry tracks 500 medical marijuana patients

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WATCH ABOVE: The Quebec cannabis registry created just over a year ago for users of medical cannabis has less participants than expected. But as Anne Leclair reports, the researcher in charge insists the registry is working – Jun 14, 2016

MONTREAL — The Quebec College of Physicians made it mandatory for doctors and patients to take part in a research study if they wanted access to cannabis. But tracking the use of medical marijuana in the province has proven to be a challenge.

READ MORE: Pot activist calls Quebec’s Cannabis Registry a form of medical extortion

“It’s not that easy to set up this kind of project,” said Dr. Mark Ware, investigator at the MUHC’s Research Institute.

Quebec is considered a world leader when it comes to research on medical marijuana. It’s been just over one year since the Quebec Cannabis Registry first saw the light of day, and only a fraction of doctors who have applied are now authorized to prescribe pot, mostly in private clinics.

“We’re waiting for permission and approvals to extend recruitment to all publicly associated clinics across Quebec,” said Ware, who is planning to present his preliminary findings in Poland later this month.

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Only 23 physicians are approved to authorize the use of medical marijuana, out of the 160 who have applied. The registry is now tracking 505 patients, and in the long run the goal is to have at least 3,000.

“I think the conclusion that we have is that it’s working,” insisted Ware. “We’ve been on a steady recruitment curve ever since we began.”

But the registry has also proven to be time-consuming for doctors and patients who typically have to spend hours filling out surveys on the different strains, symptoms and side effects of marijuana.

READ MORE: Pot dispensaries are sprouting up all over Canada. Here’s why.

“For some clinics this is a burden, especially if they’re recruiting a large number of patients. They need to be seen in follow up: the patients are seen every three months for the first two years,” said Ware.

Santé Cannabis is the largest clinic of its kind in Quebec, and employs a third of doctors who are taking part in the registry.

“There are dissuasive elements to the registry,” said Adam Greenblatt, executive director of Santé Cannabis.

“It’s a very strict guideline but hopefully once we see the registry take off in public clinics that will no longer be an issue.”

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The goal is to widen access to physicians in all public medical clinics such as CLSCs, but first Quebec’s Health ministry needs to agree.

READ MORE: Colorado pot report: More adults smoking weed, not kids

Many stakeholders expect that the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana will increase access for both medical and recreational users. But Quebec’s College of Physicians worries it could compromise the entire cannabis registry, considering it’s now compulsory.

“Personally, my fear is that opening the market and diminishing the price and difficulty of access to cannabis in general — it may be a barrier to the registry,” said Dr. Yves Robert, secretary of the Quebec College of Physicians.

“Patients will probably have more facility to access cannabis without having to have a prescription.”

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