What’s Up With Marijuana in Canada? A LOT

Canada and Recreational MarijuanaWe have recently written blog posts on our Southern neighbor, Mexico (see Marijuana Legalization: Bad for the Cartels and Mexican Marijuana Laws: Change is Here/Coming) and with all that has been going on with Canada cannabis lately, we are going to start giving our Northern neighbor equal time. Like nearly every other country in the world, marijuana is federally illegal in Canada. See Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Nonetheless, Canadian law does make certain that Canadians can buy and possess marijuana for medical purposes. Unlike the United States, Canada’s medical marijuana laws and rules are governed by federal legislation, making them uniform and enforceable in all Canadian provinces.

Until two years ago, Canadian patients to be authorized to possess marijuana for medical purposes had to fall into one of two categories of illnesses and associated “debilitating symptoms.” Under newer regulations, Canada removed patient categories to allow medical marijuana to be used to treat any medical condition. In Canada today, its “Healthcare Practitioners” fill out a “Medical Document” for patients that serves as sufficient authorization for them to use medical marijuana. Patients authorized to use medical marijuana then send their Medical Documents to a licensed medical marijuana producer who registers them as “clients.” Canadian patients may then place orders for their medical marijuana with their producer who then mails their clients their medical marijuana.

Before 2013, if you wanted medical marijuana in Canada you either had to grow your own or you could go through Health Canada’s lone designated marijuana provider, Prairie Plant Systems. Then Canada enacted Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which expanded access to marijuana for medical purposes:

Under the MMPR, individuals who have the support of their healthcare practitioner can access marijuana for medical purposes from licensed producers. Licensed producers must meet strict security and quality standards. The maximum amount that may be possessed by clients registered with a licensed producer is 30 times the daily amount indicated by their healthcare practitioner, to a maximum of 150 grams.

A current list of all producers registered with Health Canada can be found here. In addition to the MMPR requirements, Canada’s licensed cannabis producers must comply with all applicable provincial, territorial, and municipal legislation and regulations, including zoning restrictions. And Health Canada’s cannabis producer license application is notoriously difficult and expensive.

Until recently, Health Canada limited producers to selling only dried marijuana flower. That changed this past summer when Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that patients are entitled to more than just flower, given that some medical conditions make smoking both a health risk and a less effective medical treatment. Today, those producers who have obtained expanded production licenses from Health Canada are authorized to produce, but not yet sell, marijuana oil for patients. 

Though Canada’s federal law now allows for the production and wholesale distribution of marijuana for medical purposes, it has not legalized medical marijuana dispensaries. Patients in Canada still must get their cannabis from one of the limited number of producers, and then only through the mail.

Though compassion clubs and dispensaries remain illegal in Canada, they exist in large numbers. British Columbia alone has at least one hundred illegally operating dispensaries in the City of Vancouver; and federal enforcement against dispensaries has been spotty and inconsistent at best. In June of this year, the City of Vancouver became the first Canadian city to take control of the situation by approving a regulation-intensive, two-tier licensing system for dispensaries operating within its borders. Two months later, federal authorities sent the Vancouver City Council a letter explaining why the City should abandon this plan, but not threatening any legal action. In September, federal authorities sent cease and desist letters to 13 Vancouver-based dispensaries. The City has ignored federal government prohibitions and entreaties, and as of August was in the process of reviewing 176 license applicants.

A recent CBC survey shows that 56 percent of Canadians favor legalizing marijuana, with an additional 30 percent favoring eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use. On top of this, Canada’s newly elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promises nationwide legalization and he has been working hard to secure federal legislation that will do exactly that since taking office earlier this month.

Our cannabis business lawyers already represent Canadian companies looking to profit from the U.S. cannabis industry, and vice-versa. As Canada and the U.S. both grow their cannabis industries, we expect these cross-border transactions will only increase.We see Canada becoming one of the leading cannabis countries within a year, and likely surpassing the U.S. with cannabis legal and policy reform. And within ten years, we see  Canada and the U.S. (and maybe Mexico and no doubt other countries as well) opening up their borders for trade in cannabis just as is done for virtually all other legal products.

That will be the day….