Halifax Woman Suing Medical Marijuana Producer After Becoming Ill

When the pain of Dawn Rae Downton’s inflammatory arthritis kept her up at night, her specialist suggested she try medical marijuana. But for Downton, the cure ended up being worse than the disease.

Dawn Rae Downton did find relief for her sleep through marijuana. Although the marijuana did help her sleep, she also soon developed severe nausea. Then it turned out the cannabis Downton had been using, from a Moncton-based medical marijuana producer called Organigram, was subject to a recall. This was because it was found to contain prohibited pesticides.

“I lost nearly all of 2016 to constant nausea around the clock and a constant vomiting, or retching is probably a better way of putting it. I had nothing in my stomach and by that time had lost a lot of weight,” Downton tells The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti. It took eight months for Downton to figure out the link between nausea and the marijuana. Cannabis can cause a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis. However, the specialist treating Downton didn’t think this diagnosis fit her profile.

“I was just that sick. I was helpless on the couch.”

Licensed Medical Marijuana Producer

'Constant nausea': Halifax woman suing medical marijuana producer after becoming ill
After asking Organigram for a refund, Downton said they were “very unhelpful.” via CBC

Downton is part of a class action lawsuit against the marijuana company. But she also says she doesn’t believe Health Canada’s standards for marijuana are stringent enough to protect consumers.

“As far as the product goes that you can buy on the street, it’s probably at least as safe as a licensed producer now.”

Health Canada released new proposed regulations last month that are designed to keep cannabis consumers safe. But there have been multiple recalls from licensed medical marijuana producers over the last few years, for pesticides and mold. Maddy Carter is a lawyer with Halifax law firm and Ray Wagner. They are working on the class action lawsuit again Organigram. “We’re talking about medical cannabis here. So, these are essentially pharmaceutical products and they are being provided to patients who are ill and often would be immunocompromised.”

“So, it is of great concern when clients of licensed producers find out that there are these unauthorized pesticides in products they are consuming,” she says.

Dan Clarke is the executive vice-president of business development at A&L Laboratories, which is licensed by Health Canada to do testing for licensed cannabis producers. He says the testing has not been perfected yet but thinks it will improve as the product becomes legal, and as technology improves. ON the other hand, Clarke argues third-party testing by companies such as his should be expanded. Currently, it’s required only for pesticides, but not other potential contaminants.

“I think that we shouldn’t be singling out just pesticides,” Clarke tells Tremonti. “I believe that when we start looking at the aquatoxins and microbiology, they can pose as much risk to the individual when they consume them.”

Pesticides in Marijuana

'Constant nausea': Halifax woman suing medical marijuana producer after becoming ill
Wagner said his firm did not initially intend to pursue a class action because Organigram had said it would refund customers. via CBC

Rosy Mondin is executive director of the Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada. She stated though pesticides in marijuana have made people sick, it’s not a common occurrence.

“The good news is there really is no epidemic of health problems. As more people than ever are actually consuming cannabis,” Mondin tells Tremonti. “And there doesn’t seem to be a higher risk of disease when taking it.”

She cautions, however, that people with certain medical conditions should not smoke marijuana. In addition, she would like to see a general move away from smoking the product. Instead, move towards other forms of ingesting it, such as edibles.

Mondin says that, so far, there is little data on what pesticides are safe to inhale. Also, some of the pesticides in the marijuana recalls are deemed safe for use in food in Canada. She adds that more research needs to be done on what pesticides are safe in marijuana use. And she agrees that rigorous third-party testing is necessary to bring in the industry from its “wild west” past.

The Current did get a statement from Greg Engel, the CEO of Organigram, the producer from whom Dawn Rae Downton bought her marijuana. It reads, in part:

“Since the recall, our team has worked diligently to implement new processes and procedures designed to prevent any future issue. These processes included rigorous testing of all of our product to ensure it is free of contamination. The results of this testing are also reviewed by Health Canada before any product is released for sale.”