Medicinal cannabis user organizes protest after unlicensed Saskatoon dispensaries forced to shutter

Medicinal cannabis user organizes protest after unlicensed Saskatoon dispensaries forced to shutter

Alicia Yashcheshen credits medicinal cannabis for keeping her alive after she developed Crohn’s disease following a bad reaction to a prescription, Vioxx, which resulted in anorexia.

“If I don’t have cannabis oil, I can’t eat,” she said.

Yashcheshen, acting director of the Saskatchewan Medical Cannabis Association, is organizing a protest at Saskatoon’s city hall Saturday afternoon, in response to the shutdown of unlicensed medicinal cannabis dispensaries in the city this week. She used to purchase cannabis oil from Best Buds, but since its doors closed after it was one of four dispensaries that received a letter from city police, she will have to order online.

Police issued letters to the outlets’ owners, asking them to comply with current laws, including theCannabis Control Act of Saskatchewan. The letter, signed by Det. Supt. Dave Haye, said police were aware the businesses may be operating outside of the legal framework of federal and provincial acts regulating cannabis and the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes regulations.

Yashcheshen wants lawmakers to provide for a special licence specifically for medicinal dispensaries, which are not included in provincial legislation.

Alicia Yasheschen has been a licensed medicinal cannabis user for nearly 10 years and needs it to treat pain related to Crohn’s disease.

Kayle Neis /

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

“Fundamentally, my question is, what am I supposed to do with all the sick and dying people who are in panic because they can’t get their meds?” she said.

Yashcheshen said her own situation appeared precarious nearly a decade ago, before she became a licensed medical marijuana patient in 2009.

When she turned to cannabis, she was fighting for her life, having also become dependent on opioids for pain relief, she said. Vioxx, a pain reliever, was later pulled off the market by its maker, Merck, after it was found the drug led to serious heart problems. Yashcheshen said she was introduced to cannabis and quickly realized she couldn’t smoke it, but cannabis oil helped her regain her ability to eat.

She is concerned that losing medicinal dispensaries may encourage more opioid use by people looking to manage their pain, she said.

“I know as a past opioid abuser, that means a death sentence. So if I can prevent one person from going down that road, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll protest in the streets until the day that I die because cannabis saved my life.”


Yashcheshen is one of many who used the unlicensed dispensaries. She said she and others don’t want to get cannabis oil from any of the licensed producers, citing class-action lawsuits filed against producers in Canada. One such lawsuit was filed last year against a producer Health Canada found was using an undeclared pesticide not approved for use on medicinal marijuana plants.

Concerned members want to know where they can get medicinal cannabis now that the medical dispensaries were closed, she said. In the span of 30 minutes on Thursday afternoon, she got 20 emails from concerned members after Best Buds sent out a notice that its doors would be closed, she added.

They refuse to go to the licensed producers and can’t afford to buy from the licensed shops, she said.

“So while they’re considered unregulated or unlicensed, that’s not really their fault, it’s the government’s fault for not designing regulation that includes us, the medical patients. Because without those stores, where are we supposed to go?”

Medicinal users she represents use cannabis oil and don’t smoke dried marijuana, which is all the licensed stores are offering right now, she noted. While they can buy oil online, delivery can take more than a week.

The Saskatoon Cannabis Clinic on Second Avenue closed its doors indefinitely after receiving a letter from the police on Oct. 24, 2018.

Matt Olson / Saskatoon StarPhoenix /


“As a patient, if you have to wait upwards of seven days for your medication, for some people that would mean life or death. If you’re treating cancer with cannabis oil and you need a gram of oil every single day and you don’t have it for several days, that’s putting you back,” she said.

The letters from police prompted the owners of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries to close their doors on Thursday. At the Saskatoon Cannabis Centre on Second Avenue South, a “closed for the day” sign was posted on the locked door. Calls to the shop went unanswered.

Best BudsSociety, another medicinal marijuana dispensary with the name BBS Lifestyle, Health and Nutrition, was similarly shut down. The now former manager of the Avenue D South location, cannabis activist Chris Jordan, confirmed the dispensary had received one of the police letters.

He’s looking at the possibility of opening a safe-consumption vape lounge at the same location, he said.

Jordan is concerned that with the medicinal dispensaries forced to close, their former clients, especially those who use cannabis for harm reduction, may turn to the streets if they are unable to afford what they need at licensed retailers, none of which have opened in the city to date.

He said the owner of Best Buds Society, Pat Warnecke, plans to file an injunction against the federal government over patient access to medicinal marijuana under the new legislation.

BBS has no plans to back down in the face of the shutdown, which is “definitely not” permanent, Jordan said.

“There is a lot of fight ahead of us.”

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