Opinion: Health Canada’s ACMPR Stats Are The Cannabis Industry’s Most Exciting Numbers

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Opinion: Health Canada's ACMPR stats are the cannabis industry's most exciting numbers Forget the stock market peaks and plunges: for constitutional challenger Matt Mernagh, ACMPR stats offer the biggest thrills

Statistics can be overwhelming for some, but for me, reading Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) stats – which quantify the number of registered patients across the provinces and territories –  creates an emotional response more appropriate to celebrating a .300 batting average than a government program.

These days, industry professionals pretty much take the recently released ACMPR data for granted, but there was a time when Health Canada cannabis stats were considered so classified that a special dispensation was required to review them.

When I was charged with personal cannabis production – never convicted – my legal defense was that Health Canada’s medical cannabis program wasn’t accessible to the majority of Canadians. People in Toronto and Vancouver had some access to medical marijuana, but what about Alberta or Northwest Territories? Rural Ontario communities? Some places people can’t access a family doctor let alone find one to sign a medical document. We had witnesses from all over the country, but the key to our success was in the secret data Health Canada had under wraps.

For my defense lawyer Paul Lewin to be privy to them, I had to agree to allow secret evidence to be called — a rarity for a Canadian criminal trial. It still shocks me to have laws reserved for terrorism put into play in a pot case, but those were the Prime Minister Stephen Harper days. Lewin reviewed Health Canada’s classified statistical evidence relating to questions about doctor participation, provincial participation and distribution, and rural and urban participation.

This locked us in a stats battle with the agency in 2010, leading up to a three-week long constitutional challenge in 2011. We would subpoena Health Canada for data on the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (or the MMAR, a program that pre-dated the current ACMPR) and they would deliver the information at 5 p.m. the day before our scheduled court appearances.

Lewin would read binders of information, and I would get the Coles Notes and his opinion on what would be called against our challenge.

This went on for months, with Health Canada releasing tidbits of information at a time. Statistically speaking, no government program had worked better than MMAR, but for some reason the government didn’t want anyone to know.

Eight years later, anyone can review government cannabis stats to see how many shipments went to the Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island or Alberta. Many of the stats we sparred over can now be easily viewed on Health Canada’s website. It’s glorious! Excuse me while I hyperventilate over these statistical changes, because the stats battle created emotional scars.

Total physician participation since Health Canada began licensing Canadians for medical cannabis is 10,433. For a historical perspective, it’d be great to see the number broken down to how many doctors signed on after the introduction of licensed producers.

It’s probably a big number, because the Harper government-led Health Canada didn’t see a need to promote the program to physicians, i.e. hire dealers. During our constitutional challenge, we called an expert witness to testify how drugs are marketed in Canada, and many people thought it was weird that sales reps weren’t talking to doctors.

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