Canada has been undergoing many changes in the cannabis marketplace, most notably in the last two years. Originally, the system began with increasing access to cannabis for those with medical conditions under a “grow your own” model, the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR). After running for a while, our regulatory authority, Health Canada, decided that among other faults, the MMAR program could pose a security risk to individuals growing at home. Following the dissolve of the MMAR, later released was a set of regulations, called Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) to license commercial producers now called Licenced Producers (LPs). While some MMAR patients were grandfathered in, the MMPR began as the mainstream cannabis production platform. MMPR LPs are inspected with high security and quality standards to produce and distribute cannabis exclusively to medical patients with a doctor-prescribed medical document. Patients register with one LP exclusively and receive cannabis by a mail-order system, and mail order only.
Why mail order with a medical document? What about all the dispensaries selling cannabis across Vancouver and Toronto? Where is all this cannabis coming from, if the MMPR LPs can only distribute direct to a patient through mail order?
These are good questions. And they are questions you should be asking. There are a few different factors contributing to the vast array of consumer confusion across borders in the Canadian system. People are passionate about cannabis, as well as their own personal freedom to have it. Some are passionate for medical reasons, others for the pure punch of liberation. Either way these passions have resulted in an interesting series of court decisions including a more recent one that deemed the MMPR unsuitable to provide enough access to cannabis for those in need. Effective close to the end of August this year in 2016, the MMPR as it is currently written will cease to be in effect and require revisions or a new system entirely for the legislation to be accepted and continued with.
There are a few different critiques of the MMPR which include: not enough variety, no ability to “see and feel” products before purchase, limitations on supply sources, limitations on dosage formats (i.e. oil and dried flowers only) and some might try to argue the rise in cost. While cannabis remains illegal to traffic without adequate controls across Canada, it is low on the priority list for the RCMP to spend resources on. Depending on which town and situation you are caught carrying it in, you would be hard pressed to be charged for carrying cannabis unless you ask for it. So, Canada has seen a surge in retail dispensaries, licensed or not, at the municipal level to the point where hundreds of them now exist across the country, distributing hundreds of millions of dollars of cannabis products per year.
Dispensaries vary in degree of professionalism, prices and strains available. Some have over sixty strains while others hold only four or five. Because Health Canada does not require laboratory testing of these products, most do not know their cannabis’ potency or that it is safe from bacteria, moulds, pesticides and aflatoxins. If they wanted to know, they could not find out since those with Narcotics Licences for testing are unable to accept their products under any regulatory framework.
We have seen false and unaccredited labs pop up on street corners accepting the unregulated products, but what we have not seen is information on the methods these labs are using, how they are validated and whether or not they are accurate. Regardless, the general consumer base does not seem to mind. Many of these locations have been reportedly selling $20,000-$30,000 CAD per day per 5,000 square feet or less of an operation. That is on average $600,000 per month and if continued for a full year as some have done, around $7.2M per year. All unregulated, and all up until recently tolerated by our RCMP and local policy authorities.
Finally, given the industrial-scale distribution that was not just occurring in the black market anymore, different neighbourhoods that did not like cannabis complained. LPs complained. And other regulated product industry members complained. They all complained that the unregulated distribution of cannabis was negatively affecting them in one way or another. And so, Canada saw raids. Hundreds of dispensaries raided, and many people were arrested if only temporarily. Products were seized. However, these raids generally proved ineffective and we saw most of these dispensaries open the next day. While the daily amounts seized might have sounded like a lot, they were only about one day’s sales for most of these locations, providing the authorities with a better glimpse into just how much diversion of the supposedly controlled substance was going on.
Given that cannabis is promised for recreational legalization in the spring of 2017 in Canada, many are wondering about what sort of business opportunities there might be on the horizon. We know that while control of production will probably remain similar to how it is now, our distribution models will change. Here are a few points Health Canada is considering in their latest discussions:
- A phased-in approach to distribution will probably be necessary. First, continuing with the mail-order system would be the easiest phase in approach.
- Regulated storefronts as an alternative to the current dispensaries. It is doubtful that dispensaries operating as they are will continue. There are rumors floating around that Shopper’s Drug Mart and other pharmacies will be able to help with distribution. Time will tell if these rumors evolve.
- Provincial and Territorial uniqueness. Distribution could be altered at regional levels and different models could be developed across the country, similar to liquor regulations in effect. Some of our provincial liquor distribution entities have inquired to become distributors.
- Keep cannabis away from minors. Health Canada is considering a look at locations, hours of operation, density of retailers and producers and consumption of cannabis outside of personal dwellings all as factors in the new system.
- Guarding against impaired driving. Our regulators want to make sure they have enough tools to monitor those who may have been driving after consumption of cannabis.
- Sound product packaging and labeling. A focus on understanding THC & CBD potencies as well as appropriate health warning messages. Packaging and Labeling, and effectively sound testing, will all be necessary.
Want to know more, or see for yourself? Check out Health Canada’s latest discussion document.
Curious to know what this will mean for packaging and labeling? Get in touch with me to better understand what Eurofins-Experchem currently tests for with our Licensed Producers. Contact me at 416 665 2134 ext 252 or firstname.lastname@example.org