What Is Happening to Medical Cannabis in Canada?

Medical cannabis — just like all cannabis —  is 100% legal in Canada. In fact, it’s largely Canada’s good fortune constructing its national medical cannabis market in 2014 that allowed it to take the next step becoming the second country after Uruguay to legalize cannabis for all adult recreational users. The Cannabis Act passed by Canada’s national government creates a legal system for producing, possessing and selling marijuana. The new law means that the individual Canadian provinces will define rules to regulate legal cannabis distribution, under the basic federal government framework.

But now that recreational cannabis is legal since Oct 18, 2018, it’s important to keep track of what is happening with the medical cannabis industry in consideration of the rapidly changing national and international marketplace.

The short answer: there are no immediate changes planned for the medical marijuana industry in Canada since the passage of Cannabis Act in June 2018, which is now in the process of being implemented this month. However, there are parts of the Cannabis Act that aim to promote cannabis research, and with pharmaceutical companies planning to take a more active role in the industry now that it’s legal, the evolution of the medical marijuana market is likely to accelerate.

The Medical Cannabis Market Will Continue 

The medical market will continue in Canada
iStock / matt_benoit

Health Canada, which is a government department responsible for public health, will continue operating the medical marijuana system but will be reviewed at some point in the next five years.

The Canadian Medical Association, representing the country’s doctors, had called for the medical marijuana system to be phased out in post-legalized Canada. Reportedly, many physicians in Canada are still uncomfortable prescribing cannabis due to lack of research and knowledge surrounding appropriate cannabis dosage for medical conditions.

In response to the CMA, Health Canada released a statement in September that outlined the future for medical marijuana research in a post-legalization landscape. The department said new regulations will help streamline the research process for cannabis producers by creating a new research license option.

“Measures under the Cannabis Act aim to facilitate research with the goal of improving our knowledge of the risks and benefits of cannabis. The aim of these provisions is to facilitate research and development by streamlining the process and requirements for cannabis-based research.”

Health Canada added that the newly afforded flexibility would support pre-clinical and clinical research on the use of cannabis and cannabinoids for medical purposes, which would likely lead to the approval of a new slate of cannabis-based drugs.

Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana CEO James O’Hara said to Huffington Post argued it was important that Canadian lawmakers maintain widespread access to specific strains of cannabis that medical patients require for conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

“What I worry about when it comes to this potential cessation of a system like this is simply the lack of availability of those strains that are very important to specific conditions… there’s no guarantee whatsoever that these strains will be available in a non-medical context,” said O’Hara.

Understanding medical marijuana in Canada

In 2014, Canada replaced their legal medical marijuana framework originally established in 2014, where patients or designated caregivers supplied their personal medical needs, with a new framework based on commercial production. This new framework allowed medical marijuana users to purchase product from Health Canada-licensed producers.

Cannabis is one of the world’s oldest cultivated plants, but because of controlled substances laws passed since we started the 20th century, it has been illegal to grow the plant in most countries worldwide. Nevertheless, marijuana was available as a licensed medicine in the United States until 1942 when the American Medical Association removed cannabis from the 12th edition of U.S. Pharmacopeia.

But with the liberalization of marijuana laws in recent years, researchers and consumers from across the world have increasingly taken note of the medical uses for marijuana extracts, especially cannabidiol (CBD).

The UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, which studies the potential clinical benefits and drawbacks of medicinal cannabis and cannabinoids, said there is evidence to show cannabis extracts produce important therapeutic benefits in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis (MS)-related spasticity.

In regards to the therapeutic value of cannabis on pain, researchers at Syracuse University found evidence that cannabinoids do not necessarily reduce the intensity of experienced pain, but rather may cause pain to become “less unpleasant and more tolerable.”

The least controversial cannabis extracts are known as CBD, which do not have psychoactive properties like THC. Already, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has approved CBD-based medicinal products for sale within the United States.

Pharmaceutical Companies Show Up To The Party

Pharmaceutical companies are moving into Cannabis
iStock / Gumpanat

With medical marijuana legalization taken up across the majority of US states and Mexico, the pharmaceutical industry now fully expects to see a profitable future in cannabis extracts. Already, some of the most draw-dropping bets in Canada have been placed on medicinal cannabis companies.

In one prominent example, the price of stock for Canadian medical cannabis company Tilray Inc. shot for the ceiling when it announced in September it had received permission from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to export cannabis for a medical study in California.

Tilray earned $20 million in revenue in the first half of 2018 from sales of medical marijuana in Canada and overseas. The company was valued at over $11 billion at one point — although its share prices have fallen dramatically since then.

U.S.-based companies are jumping into the legal market framework in Canada through reverse mergers to increase their ability to raise capital and access financial instruments that they are barred from using in United States. In addition to the retail market, putting a foothold in Canada may allow these companies to develop production, research and distribution partnerships in countries across the world including Israel, Colombia, and Jamaica.

Already, Reuters reported that Israel’s Together subsidiary, Globus Pharma, which has a license to grow, manufacture and import medical cannabis in Canada, signed a $300 million deal with an unnamed Canadian company.

Statistics Canada studies crowdsourced data from medical and non-medical consumers. The organization determined prices for all cannabis products in Canada have been largely trending downward.

What Is Happening to Medical Cannabis in Canada? was last modified: by
Taran Volckhausen

About the author: Taran Volckhausen is a freelance writer who writes about the environment, politics and social issues.