Stigmatized. Disrespected. Discriminated against
Those are the realities of medical cannabis users today. Medical use of cannabis has been legal for nearly two decades and with a potential 30 million legal users beginning in six short months, the days of reefer-madness are long past – or so one would think. Think again.
Hundreds of times every day, medical users are stigmatized, disrespected and discriminated against for their use of cannabis. A regular users will show very few signs of having consumed recently and won’t display odd behaviour as a result of consuming. Unlike a person who has consumed even small amounts of alcohol or prescription medication, cannabis does not cause anti-social behaviour that would offend anyone. In my four decades as a recreational and then medical user of cannabis, the one standard complaint was the smell. Cannabis has a unique odour which some find offensive. While that may be a concern for some, they have no more right to be free from cannabis odours than I have to live in a world free of garlic smells. Whether a smell is pleasant or foul is very subjective depending on who you ask. We can’t control the smells in our environment and to suggest their preference should override mine is pretty arrogant.
Some of the most prolific offenders when it comes to treating cannabis users poorly are our so-called health care professionals. I have had two separate experiences at two different hospitals years apart that leads me to believe this is policy rather than simply a few rogue, rude staff.
The first incident happened about 8 years ago and involved young doctors in an emergency room. I had been brought in by ambulance after a fall and the doctor examining me asked if I had taken any drugs or medication. I replied that the only thing I use is medical cannabis. I spent the next ten minutes listening to the two jackass kids in doctor’s coats joking and giggling about “medical marijuana”. If I could hear them, so could the overflowing treatment rooms as I was in the hallway. Being a long-time resident of a small town, I was well known to many in that hospital. My privacy wasn’t important to them. I made a complaint, but nothing was ever done.
Fast forward to last evening. This time I was visiting a different hospital to meet my new grandson, but the treatment I received was no less humiliating. I wrote a complaint and have sent it off and I am going to post it here. It explains pretty clearly the disrespect I endured over a smell. I will post their reply and resolution when and if that happens. Here’s the complaint:
I am filing a complaint against a nurse in the maternity ward of ——- Regional Hospital. I was too angry to get her name or to even respond to the accusations in a civil manner at the time. I, along with my wife, were at the Nanaimo Hospital NICU this evening (January 20,2018) to visit our newborn grandson for the first time. Although we were with my son (the father of said grandson) and our one year old granddaughter, the nurse who buzzed us in asked who we were going to see in a rather condescending/rude tone. My son and granddaughter had been in and out all day and his son was in the ward – she knew where we were going. It wasn’t a real warm welcome.
As we were leaving about 90 minutes later (6 pm), the nurse buzzing us out decided she had the right to humiliate me in front of my wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter because she objected to an odour of cannabis that may or may not have been emanating from me. Rather than pull one of us aside and express her concerns, she instead raised her voice so the entire room could hear and said “ Next time you come in here and you’ve been smoking pot…..wash your hands or something”. What proof did she have that I was the source of the smell before deciding to embarrass me? I don’t appreciate being defamed unfairly and my employment requires me to maintain a good character. Now that she has informed multiple strangers (nurses and visitors) of my cannabis use by implying I had done something wrong, I have no way of knowing if that will be used against me or affect my future.
So I have a few very big issues with what happened and how I address them will depend on the response I get from you.
Problem one was the fact that this woman felt the need to inject herself and her personal dislike of a smell into my personal business. I am a medical cannabis user, prescribed by a physician and approved by Health Canada. My cannabis use is a personal health matter and quite frankly, none of her business. I did not smoke just prior to going to the hospital or while there, but it is quite possible I had the residual odour on me. None of my family members are smokers and they didn’t smell anything. There are many unpleasant smells in a hospital, and to humiliate me for my choice of medicine because she doesn’t like the smell is appalling for a supposed ‘health care professional’. Somebody should inform her that cannabis is a legal medicine in Canada and some of the people she comes into contact with may be users.
Problem two was the way she spoke to me. I am a grown man and I don’t appreciate being lectured to by anyone. If she had a problem, the professional, courteous way to address it would be by discreetly asking me. The fact that she felt the need to embarrass me speaks volumes to her character. She spoke to me like she thought she was my boss or my mother – she is neither. I normally have a very short fuse when I’m treated like I’m garbage, but the maternity ward wasn’t a place for it so I didn’t say anything. It’s unfortunate that your staff doesn’t feel obligated to follow the notices posted everywhere warning patients and visitors to treat staff respectfully. I give respect and I expect it back regardless of what someone thinks of the way I look or smell.
Problem three is trying to understand the reason for the humiliating treatment to begin with. To my knowledge, a cannabis odour has never harmed anybody. Some may not like the smell, but that’s a personal issue. We can’t always control everything we smell in our lives. Then, because she didn’t have an actual point other than to humiliate me, she tells me to wash my hands IF I come back. Excuse me? I washed my hands before entering in order to hold the baby. Apparently hand washing didn’t work, because she still decided to lecture me. Her only goal was to make herself look important in front of her co-workers at my expense. There is no evidence the smell even came from me as I wasn’t the only one there, but that didn’t stop her from accusing. As I said, nobody else smelled it on me.
What gives her the right to treat me different than every other visitor simply because I choose cannabis over pharmaceuticals? There are laws to protect me from people like her, it’s a shame she didn’t take the time to learn them. What was supposed to be a happy occasion meeting our grandson has been permanently marred by this event. For what?
Given that cannabis will be legal for 30 million Canadians in less than six months, one can assume her encounters with cannabis smokers will increase. Is she going to be permitted to continue to treat cannabis users as though they were some lower form of life? To top things off, on my way out, in the gift shop window there were some wooden signs. Three out of the six signs displayed a message related to alcohol consumption. Surely a hospital would know better than most of the dangers, disease and death associated with alcohol, but here they are joking about it on signs. As someone who is 10 years sober, I find those signs infinitely more offensive than the smell of a plant.
This is not the first time I have been treated unfairly, unprofessionally and rudely by hospital staff for my cannabis use and I have about had my fill. An incident at St. Joseph’s hospital in —– years ago was equally humiliating and was never resolved. Believe it or not, cannabis users contribute to hospital operating costs and salaries just as much as non-users and treating them differently is clear discrimination. In 2018 there is no excuse for the treatment I received.
After my wife and I had left the hospital, my son confronted the nurse and advised her of our objection to her treatment of me. She half-assed apologized and muttered an explanation that they were concerned about the health of the babies. Excuse me, again? When was the last time a child was harmed by exposure to a residual plant smell? Either she is extremely uneducated on the subject, in which case she should keep her opinions to herself, or she thought I was an idiot, in which case she should also keep her opinions to herself. Is it common practice for your staff to lie to the public about something so easily debunked? I am a 55 year old man who has been a cannabis proponent for over 3 decades. I know the facts and I know my rights. I have had several violated by her tonight.
The only satisfactory resolution to this complaint would be extensive training for nurses and hospital staff to educate them on how to treat the public with respect and without infringing on their right to privacy and without being discriminatory. Anything less will not address the stigma and the discrimination so prevalent towards cannabis users by medical staff. I am prepared to have the courts intervene to prevent this type of humiliating experience in the future so myself and others feel as safe and as respected as every other visitor to a hospital. The more I think about that woman humiliating me while I said nothing in defense, the angrier I get. It’s clear this particular nurse is not suited for the job or just plain hates people. She should be removed from any position that allows her contact with the public.
It’s time we force an end to this stigma and blatant mistreatment of cannabis users by the uneducated. Alcohol remains the socially accepted intoxicant for many, including the medical crowd despite its’ long sordid history of causing violence, disease and death. The decades of prohibition and propaganda around cannabis use have resulted in some negative stereotypes and a sense that it is acceptable to treat users with considerably less respect than you would a non-user. I have said enough, no one is going to disrespect me again without an immediate response. I will use the courts and human rights commissions and the media to fight for fairness. The gloves are off.
I encourage everyone who experiences a similar situation to speak out and demand respect.