Imagine being sick and your doctor giving you a prescription but having to wait for six months before that prescription can be used. That's the reality for many needing medical marijuana in Canada according to Marco Renda.
Marco Renda, 51, is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Treating Yourself magazine, a publication dedicated to medical marijuana.
In fact, 80 percent of the articles are written by those living with illnesses or their caregivers where medical marijuana is used. Renda said during a telephone interview that those articles allow doctors to see more into patient's lives than when outsiders write about the issues.
"It's hands-on knowledge," he said.
Treating Yourself was first published in 2005 as a quarterly magazine. The Canadian publication is now published bi-monthly and is sold worldwide. In the beginning, the magazine was not making a profit but times have changed says Renda.
"We are making a profit now but it took a long time," he said. "Now we are able to be paying off the debts from before and the profits help to support the Medical Marijuana and Hemp Expo in Toronto."
Renda said some doctors in Canada charge patients more than $150 in order to sign for a medical marijuana card.
In addition to publishing a magazine, medicinal marijuana patients can also learn more at expos. The first expo took place this past July at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto. Those thinking they had come to party center would have been disappointed. Renda said some in the media thought they were going to be attending a Woodstock-like event. This event was a professional show that included the latest medical information, a vapor lounge and music awards. There was no selling or distributing of marijuana permitted at the expo. Patients were allowed to bring their medication with them into the vapor lounge where vaporizers of all makes and models were available for use.
"The expo was for patients, not a party," he said. "I am not saying that patients don't have a good time but the atmosphere was for information. Patients don't want to be viewed as losers or stoners," Renda continued, "Smoke-out rallies didn't change the way government looks at medical marijuana but by being professional we are making changes."
Renda said that there were a lot of undercover police at the event and that there weren't any arrests.
Renda put hours of effort into making the event professional, a skill he obtained from his many years in the trade show business. He was able to bring educational seminars by experts Dr. Bob Melamede, Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, Mary Lynn Mathre, Michael Krawitz and Dr. Alexander Sumach. From nutrition to security and safety to cooking and activism the expo covered details that are relevant to patients and care providers. This year the admission was $25 but Renda says that in 2011 the event will have a lower admission fee of $15.
Medical marijuana is used to relieve the pain and symptoms of AIDS, arthritis, asthma, Crohn's disease, depression and mental illness, degenerative diseases, eating disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, intractable breathlessness, migraines, MS, nausea, obstetric problems, chronic pain, phantom limb pain, post traumatic stress, tumors, cancer and other seriously debilitating diseases. Even though cannabis is used for so many conditions Health Canada puts up barriers for many patients in Canada. Unlike some other areas in the world obtaining a card to be able to use cannabis Canadians have to have a true medical reason and their doctors are cautious about prescribing it. Renda said that those with a card in Canada have legitimate reasons for using cannabis.
Renda stated that Health Canada does not allow for extracts of the plant even though extracts have been proven to be the most beneficial for patients. Those extracts can be used for making butters that can be used in cooking instead of the plant material itself.
Renda believes that for patients the legalization of marijuana overall is needed.
"The true gateway of harder drugs is the black market drug trade," he said. "It's a safety matter for patients. Patients are the most vulnerable. With marijuana only being legal for medical reasons the patients are at risk from criminals. There have been home invasions, rapes and assaults of patients so that criminals can take their medication. I have lost my own marijuana from robberies."
Asked if he reported those robberies Renda assured he had. He has also had negative experiences when dealing with the police.
"In Owen Sound I heard police calling me 'cash crop' when I went into the offices to talk with authorities," he said.
Renda is no stranger to the legal system.
In 2005 he was raided and charged with exportation and trafficking of cannabis. He plead guilty only to public mischief and another lesser charge which he was given a $2,000 fine and two years probation.
Just three years ago he arrived home to Canada with three suitcases of seeds, product that he had permits for from his medical marijuana wholesale business. Those permits didn't stop Customs Canada from putting a hold on the suitcases. The hold was to be for a week but Health Canada stepped in resulting in a lawsuit. In the end Canada Customs was battling for Renda.
"Health Canada was involved because Canada only allows one strain of cannabis to be used," he said. "Like other medications sometimes that strain is not effective and other strains have to be tried to get the right treatment for a patient. We look at this as a science."
Today Renda travels the world discussing the need for medical marijuana. He has just returned home from Austria and will be going to Amsterdam next week for another convention. He can travel anywhere except the United States.
Renda is devoted to changing the way the world looks at medical marijuana. He's not a man out to party his life away. The former lead sale generator uses cannabis as a medical tool to combat several ailments.
"My parents are behind me 100 percent," he said. "I have lived a hard life but I'm not doing too bad for a guy with a 8th grade education."