NOTE: Our 420 2016 article was already published when significant developments took place. Here are some updates.
On 420, the very day when thousands of Canadians were celebrating cannabis culture, the Liberal government formally announced its plans to legalize and regulate marijuana. While government sources insisted the timing was pure coincidence, it was nonetheless a fitting day to make good on a campaign promise.
"We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals," Philpott said in her prepared speech to UN delegates at a special session on global drug policy.
"Our approach to drugs must be comprehensive, collaborative and compassionate. It must respect human rights while promoting shared responsibility, and it must have a firm scientific foundation," Philpott said in her prepared remarks.
"While this plan challenges the status quo in many countries, we are convinced it is the best way to protect our youth while enhancing public safety," Philpott said. "We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem."
On another front, we received information from Health Canada as to availability of the manual for Health Care Professionals, as well as the timeline and process for legalization and regulation.
In an email, spokesperson Sean Upton said:
The Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations authorize licensed producers (LPs) to legally produce and/or sell dried marijuana. In July 2015, a section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act allowed LPs to also produce and sell fresh marijuana leaves and buds, and cannabis oil.
Health Canada has published an Information for Health Care Professionals document, which is a summary of peer-reviewed literature and international reviews concerning potential therapeutic uses and harmful effects of cannabis (marijuana) and cannabinoids. This document is undergoing an update to reflect the growing evidence base with respect to cannabis and cannabinoids, including cannabis oil, and is not yet final. The Department anticipates that the updated document will be published in spring 2016.
The Government of Canada has committed to legalizing, regulating, and tightly restricting access to recreational marijuana, in order to keep it away from children and to stop criminals from profiting from the illicit trade.
The government will establish a task force to advise on the design of a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution with input from provinces and territories, as well as from experts in public health, substance abuse, and law enforcement. Interested parties are invited to share their views with the task force, once it is established. The Task Force will be announced in the coming weeks.
Much has happened over the past year in the burgeoning Canadian medical marijuana biz. Since our last report on the MMPR industry created by Health Canada in April 2014, two legal decisions were rendered and a new Prime Minister elected, considerably altering the industry's landscape.
The latest numbers on the industry indicate that it is finding its feet. According to Lift, the latest numbers from Health Canada show a continued increase in patients registering and doctors willing to authorize the use of marijuana for medical purposes by their patients.
Over the past year, the number of patients registered to use marijuana for medical purposes under the MMPR has increased by over 161%, from just over 16,000 in January 2015 to over 43,000 in January 2016. The number of medical practitioners that provided a medical document for a registered client also increased to over 1,300.
This newest data also shows information for cannabis oil, with 16 production licenses issued and 66 kg sold to patients thus far, and over 900 kg of oil in inventory.
On June 11, 2015, The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that medical marijuana was legal in all forms, upholding earlier rulings by lower courts in British Columbia. The country's highest court found the current restriction to dried marijuana violates the right to liberty and security "in a manner that is arbitrary and hence is not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice." As a result of the decision, Health Canada took the immediate step of issuing a section 56 exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), allowing licensed producers to produce and sell cannabis oil and fresh marijuana buds and leaves in addition to dried marijuana.
While the decision was a huge victory for proponents of non-inhalent forms of medical marijuana and a big boost to the medical marijuana industry, it did point to the absence of any regulatory framework for medical marijuana edibles, leaving dispensaries as the only outlet for pot-infused brownies and cakes, and a huge regulatory gap.
"The decision acknowleged the important role of non-inhalents forms of medical marijuna and the strong patient demand for edibles," said Bennett Jones coporate lawyer, Hugo Alves. But it also underlined a huge grey area. LPs can provide oil as well as dried product but there is no legal framework for them to deliver edibles. Right now, the only way you can get them is through dispensaries most of which are on shaky legal ground."
When Justin Trudeau - who had pledged during his campaign to work on pot legalization policy 'right away' if elected - won a landslide victory in October 2015, it was a shot in the arm for the fledgling industry; with shares in the few publicly traded marijuana suppliers such Canopy Growth Corp. rocketing 20 per cent on the open.
With legalization on the horizon, the potential size of the marijuana market had exponentially increased. According to the Globe and Mail source Martin Landry, the recreational marijuana market could be worth between $4-billion and $5-billion per year. A figure that is substantially higher than Health Canada’s earlier estimates of $1.3 billion for the medical marijuana market.
In February 2016 however, the Allard decision was rendered, significantly muddying the picture.
The Federal Court of Canada ruled that the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which govern a patient's access to medical cannabis, violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More specefically, the court found that the requirement obligating patients to purchase cannabis solely from producers authorized by Health Canada - as opposed to being able to grow cannabis for themselves which is quite a bit cheaper - was a violation of the Section 7 Charter right to life, liberty and security of person.
While the court did not strike down the law, it gave the Trudeau Government six months to create a new or parallel regime governing access to medical cannabis.
Parliament will likely amend the laws, but it is unclear what impact that decision might have on the perceived market value of a licensed producer.
"I suspect there will be reasonable accommodation," says Alvez. "but it will be narrowly defined. The MMPR was carefully and painstakingly built over five years to avoid the proliferation of large unregulated operations housed in large buildings divided into 4 or 5 grow operations, posing as designated growers."
According to Alves, with the prospect of legalization sitting on the horizon, the government will not want to abandon the ease of enforcement provided by the MMPR's regulatory framework for the unregulated production and distribution of commercial operations. He foresees a multi-pronged apprach that will acccommodate most but probably not all of the players.
"As to the affordability arguments, LPs prices have come down significantly," he says. "For example, while prices used to vary between $7 and $12/g at Bedrocan Canada, they now charges $5/g for all their strains."
Related Medical Marijuana Articles
MED-MAR - Part 1 -: How to do business in medical marijuana like big pharma
MED-MAR OP/Ed: a looking glass into the future
MED-MAR - Part 2: The art of legally prescribing an illegal drug
MED-MAR - Op/Ed: Isn't it ironic?
MED-MAR - Part 3: Medical marijuana, food, and the final frontier
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