Artic;e by Growth Op
In an attempt to crackdown on the illicit market, Health Canada has published a plan to tighten restrictions on medical cannabis cultivation. The regulator cited a perceived discrepancy in the amount of medical cannabis grown, alongside license infringements and sites used for “large-scale illegal production.”
Although legal cannabis sales overtook illegal transactions at the end of 2020, the federal government’s focus also remains on regulating the legacy industry. It has accused some medical growers of supplying the grey market, estimated to be worth $2.9 billion annually, and now wants extended power to remove their licenses. In a guidance document to outline the proposals, the government pointed to a steady rise in the amount of medicinal cannabis grown, while the amount obtained from licensed producers stayed the same.
Crucially this overlooks the amount of cannabis needed to produce efficient medical products, and the rise in their adoption. The number of Canadians registered to access medicinal cannabis surged 24 per cent last year, alongside the number of patients licensed to grow their own medicine. The market shift is a result of increased cannabis normalization, with an influx of seniors accessing the medical framework for the first time.
Many of these patients favour cannabis oil, over smokable flower, as a more convenient consumption method. To create a single gram of high-quality oil typically requires at least seven grams of flower, depending on the calibre of the starting material. It then requires significant expertise to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes properly, often with the use of volatile chemicals.
In light of these challenges, many patients rely on the proficiency of designated legal growers to produce cannabis oil for them. This is especially true of those who require large amounts daily, which is rarely financially viable to repeatedly purchase from external sources. Growers that create the best medicine attract increased demand and scale production accordingly, to satisfy the needs of their dependents. This often results in large, yet compliant and vital, medical cannabis operations.
The second argument is that Health Canada has seen a lack of compliance site visits, including unlicensed outdoor production and high plant numbers. However, this points to the strict governance that already surrounds the industry and how policies need to be loosened, rather than tightened, to protect the supply of medicinal cannabis. In addition to regular site inspections, patients are already subjected to zoning laws and rigorous background checks, which prohibit those with criminal records from growing medical cannabis.
When cultivating cannabis for medicine, many would much sooner experience surplus than a shortage. To protect against losses as a sound agricultural practice, growers often produce more cannabis than they hope to need. This is particularly beneficial when growing outside in Canada, with crops vulnerable to environmental fluctuations. By penalizing those that slightly exceed crop limits to provide a safety buffer, it forces patients to risk shortfalls in medication with potentially dangerous results.
Grounds for license refusals
The final motivation provided for tightening medical cultivation is perhaps the most worrying, as a recent trend as well as its inclusion in the public guidance document. Health Canada referenced ‘drug and weapon charges’ at production sites, alluding to the activity of organized crime. However, it failed to detail the extent of the problem, or the number of arrests made.
A minority of medical growers are exploiting the system and those individuals require investigation, rather than widespread industry reforms. Drawing attention to isolated incidents and reporting weapon offences could result in the public accepting the proposals without accurately looking at the whole picture.
For the first time the regulator detailed grounds for license refusals or revocations, such as unlicensed crop sizes and suspicion of cannabis being diverted to an illicit market. Licences can also be taken away for not properly securing premises, administration errors and sharing medical cannabis with others.