Also called compassion clubs, dispensaries have long served patients with illnesses such as cancer. Proponents say they have the advantage of immediate convenience and Canadians also do not always know they are illegal.

“Because of this confusion, they are a source of competition,” said Greg Engel, CEO of producer Tilray.

OrganiGram’s Arsenault estimates that about 30 percent of new patients in the industry every month are going to dispensaries. He said he is not against dispensaries if the government forces them to buy from legal sources, but expects they will be shut down quickly if they are not included in the government’s new framework.

At the Ottawa Medical Dispensary, members with the required documentation can view products laid out beneath a glass case and discuss their needs one-on-one with a “budtender”.

The dispensary, which opened last November, has more than 500 members, said co-founder Shady Abboud. He said its mission is to provide pain relief and clients are encouraged to use the licensed producers as well.

“I’m not here to become a millionaire or anything. In the end, it’s everyone’s personal choice,” said Abboud.

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