Canada's Medical Marijuana System Is Surprisingly Corporate-Friendly
A new medical marijuana system took hold in Canada earlier this year. It is designed to increase access among patients and curtail some aspects of the old system that were seen as unsavory by regulators.
The new system known as the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations officially replaced the previous system known as the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations on March 31st. The transition has raised some concerns among patients and activists in the Great White North.
Currently, there are close to 40,000 registered medical marijuana users in the Canadian system, according to Health Canada. Most of those are carryovers from the older MMAR, but the goal of the new system is to streamline the application process. Under the old system, patients needed approval from the Canadian government in order to register – a process that included a 33-page application – but under the new rules a doctor or nurse practitioner can write a recommendation allowing a patient to register with a licensed producer. In at least this regard, the new system seems to be doing what was promised, expanding access by easing the process of application.
While the system was touted as a step toward greater access, many of the MMPR’s detractors see it as a move – at least partially – in the wrong direction. Under Canada’s new rules, only a handful of licensed producers are legally allowed to produce marijuana. As of right now the number of LPs actually providing marijuana to customers is 13 for all of Canada. This small number of producers must operate gigantic warehouses to meet demand. And the reform all but eliminates smaller, mom-and-pop operations.
Much of the media’s coverage of these developments now centers on these 13 enormous ventures, and the business people with the capital to invest in something so massive. One LP, Tilray, has so far invested $22 million into its operation and plans to secure $50 million to $75 million more through private investors.
Additionally, the MMPR calls for an end to the dispensary model, which operated in a quasi-legal limbo not too dissimilar from some parts of the United States. Licensed producers are now required to deliver their product via a mailing system. Canadian patients can’t peruse a variety of strains in person before making a decision, the joys of which we are all too comfortable with here in Colorado.
Most notably, the system outlawed home grows. This is an attempt to either promote public safety by forcing all production into a few highly regulated grows, or to tamp out the gray market of licensed growers selling to unlicensed customers. Or perhaps both.
A Canadian federal court ruled in March that grows already licensed under the old MMAR could remain in operation. This decision is currently being appealed by Canadian government officials. Whether or not this decision stands, any new patients seeking to gain access to medical marijuana in Canada will not have the option of growing their own.
Another point of contention among patients is the marked absence of extracts and edibles, although this is a problem that predates the creation of the MMPR. Only flowers are allowed in accordance with Canadian law (a problem the MMPR did nothing to address), burdening those who wish to consume in a manner other than smoking with the task of creating their own infusions and extracts.
Other allegations have surfaced as well, including a lack of access by some patients, and a limited number of strains. Without a clearly defined method for importation of new genetics, opportunities to develop and implement strains that are found to be helpful by patients in other countries could be in jeopardy.
The Canadian system is flawed, but the competing intentions behind it will no doubt be reconciled in the near future. Here in Colorado we often think of ourselves as pioneers of the legal marijuana market, but it is important to understand that our policy makers are often just as clueless as those in other parts of the world. Legislators often look for other examples of how best to implement policy, and the Canadian model could serve this purpose.