Health Canada has nearly doubled the number of licensed cannabis producers in the country over the past six months and new numbers show hundreds more applicants are in the final stages of approval as the government rushes toward national marijuana legalization by next July.
The dramatic surge in approved and aspiring producers comes in the wake of the agency’s concerted efforts to loosen its bureaucratic approval process and head off what many experts fear will be a looming supply crunch for the burgeoning legal cannabis market.
In late May, Health Canada announced it would “streamline” the approval process, which many would-be producers described as onerous and contended took years to complete. The agency stepped up the resources to process applications and said it would start conducting some phases of the approval process at the same time and also made it easier for existing licence holders to expand.
When the announcement was made, Health Canada had granted just 44 production licenses since it starting doling out approvals four years prior. Since then, however, the number has almost doubled to 80.
Provincial governments, police forces and marijuana companies have also been scrambling to prepare for legalized recreational sales, which the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Wednesday are expected by July — but not necessarily the Canada Day deadline that many had assumed.
A wave of pending applications has the potential to nearly triple the number of producers operating in a legal recreational market.
Health Canada spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau said that as of Dec. 1, 208 applicants were in the final stages of the approval process.
“These applicants have completed the security clearance process and their application is being reviewed to determine whether it meets all the requirements of the regulations,” she said in a statement.
“A licence is only issued once security clearances have been granted, the application meets the regulatory requirements and a facility has been built.”
Industry watchers who had been expecting a spike in the number of licenses were nonetheless surprised by the latest figures, saying the number of pending approvals exceeded their expectations.