Below you will find the complete guide to the medical marijuana industry in Canada. From producers to clinics and patients, this guide has it all.

Introduction

Medical marijuana has been around in Canada since late 2013, following the enactment of parts of the MMPR .

Now called the ACMPR , this set of regulations allows Canadians to obtain authorization from their medical professionals to access marijuana for medical use.

In other words, it’s legal if you have a valid prescription. However, getting a prescription is not as easy as you may think.

Interestingly, despite being rather difficult to obtain (a prescription), the number of medical marijuana patients registered to buy from LP’s has grown exponentially since the program was launched nearly half a decade ago.

In its first year of launch, the program attracted some 8,000 patients while last year nearly 130,000, which represents a compounded annual growth of about 150% over that time period.

Market

In case you weren’t aware, Canadian loves to smoke marijuana both recreationally and medically. As a matter of fact, recreational marijuana will become legal federally as of July 2018.

In case you weren’t convinced, a recent study published by a major financial services firm estimated that nearly 40% of the Canadian population was either already consuming or would consider consuming if it were to become recreationally legal.

Further, the company estimated that the total market potential for marijuana in Canada could be upward of $22.6 billion when considering tourism, business taxes, licensing fees and complementary products.

ACMPR

The ACMPR is a relatively complex system administrated by the federal government, more specifically, Health Canada.

Essentially, the federal government regulates the production and supply by controlling about fifty licensed producers (LP’s) across the country. The LP’s then sell to Canadians with a valid prescription from a practicing medical professional.

Since marijuana is still highly regarded as a drug rather than a medicine, obtaining a prescription from a medical professional can be quite a challenge.

Most are completely against the plant or are not educated enough to be comfortable prescribing it. Luckily, medical marijuana clinics like Cannabinoid Medical Clinic and Ganja.ca have been on the rise.

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Producers

There are currently 54 licensed producers in Canada, with the majority located in Ontario. Over the past year, we have seen the industry consolidate and go through some M&A activity.

Given the difficulty to obtain a license, existing and prospective LP’s are regularly on the hunt for licenses up for sale.

Producers can apply for one or many licenses for one or many products (dried cannabis, plants, seeds, oil, fresh marijuana or other). The major license producers have a license to possess, produce and sell dried cannabis. Licenses are issued together with a quota, limiting the amount an LP can produce and distribute in a year.

Province # of Licensed Producers
Ontario 29
British Columbia 13
Alberta 3
Saskatchewan 3
Manitoba 2
Quebec 1
New Brunswick 2
Prince Edward Island 1
Total 54

Further, LP’s are quite limited from a sales and marketing perspective. Producers, like any other marijuana-related enterprise, aren’t permitted to advertise (much like cigarettes).

This makes it quite difficult to not only attract customers but to build a strong brand and relationship with the community. Thus, most LP’s are very active on social media and work hard to get on the news, whether it be for a press release or a business acquisition.

To make it even harder on them, LP’s are restricted as to how they obtain patients (customers), but rightfully so. Given that licensed producers are motivated to drive sales and profits, prescribing medical cannabis directly to a patient can be regarded as a conflict of interest.

As a result, licensed producers are highly dependent on their referral network, namely medical marijuana clinics and independent doctors.

Clinics

Medical marijuana clinics are just like any other medical clinic, with the exception that the doctors and nurses are compassionate and believe in the healing powers of medical cannabis.

In fact, as mentioned earlier, medical marijuana clinics are the glue to the entire system. They connect patients with hard-to-find compassionate doctors and licensed producers, making the medical marijuana world go around.

Interestingly enough, most Canadians don’t even know of the existence of medical cannabis clinics, despite being on the rise in recent months.

Further, just like licensed producers, cannabis clinics cannot advertise in any way, shape or form. The biggest clinics in the business include Ganja.ca, Tweed Main Street (TMS) and Canabo Medical (CM).

Ganja.ca, unlike the latter two, offers the entire process online from the initial application and doctor visit to ordering your meds. TMS and CM, on the other hand, operate brick and mortar locations across certain provinces and give in-person consultation services.

Eligibility

The short answer is: probably if you’re at least 25. The regulations officially released by Health Canada stated that in order to be eligible, one must belong to one of two categories as follows:
I. Category 1 - severe and/or persistent pain or muscle spasms from:
a. Arthritis
b. HIV/AIDS
c. Cancer
d. Anorexia
e. Spinal cord diseases or injuries
f. Seizures
g. Multiple sclerosis
II. Category 2 – any debilitating symptom from a medical condition not included in Category 1.

As you can see, pretty much any symptom can fit within the definition of Category 2; a simple headache or a cold can be ‘debilitating’. But needless to say, medical professionals are very diligent when writing prescriptions for medical cannabis, their licenses to practice medicine (or nursing) are at stake after all.

An increasing number of medical professionals are turning to Health Canada and other respected organizations for medical cannabis prescription guidelines. For example, the College of Physicians of Canada suggests that medical marijuana is not appropriate for those under 25, individuals with a history of psychosis (personal or within the family) and/or addictive behaviour. Most (if not all) medical professionals seem to abide by the suggested ‘minimum age’.

Prescription

At this point, you are probably eager to just find out how the heck to get a medical marijuana prescription, so here it is. After filling out your initial patient intake form with a medical marijuana clinic, your file will be reviewed to ensure you are indeed eligible and subsequently assigned a medical professional.

You will meet your medical professional (virtually or in person) for about 15 minutes. The health care practitioner will run you through some basic questions to better understand your condition, assess whether medical cannabis is right for you and then, if approved, issue a prescription.

Prescriptions can vary in terms of duration and volume. It isn’t uncommon for medical professionals to initially issue a short-term prescription (typically three months) before issuing a full, one-year prescription term.

Prescriptions are expressed in grams of dried marijuana and can range from half a gram to over ten grams. Prescription over 4 – 5 grams are quite uncommon but have been issued in the past.

Growing Prescriptions

As an alternative to buying medical marijuana from an LP, you can also apply for a license to grow your own plants. However, due to the complexity of the application process and the low frequency of such requests, we will not dive into great detail on subject in this article. What you need to know is that you can but good luck!

Veterans

If you are a Canadian veteran, you can be eligible for quite a treat. The Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has a program which reimburses veterans for cannabis for medical purposes.

The program has been a tremendous success with the number of veterans taking part of the program growing from 5 patients to over three thousand in just a few years!

Although the program has been slightly amended recently, the VAC still covers a big portion of the cost of medical marijuana for its veterans.

Province of Quebec

As with most things in Canada, the province of Quebec is always complicating things and with no exception for medical marijuana.

Unlike every other province in the country, the provincial college of physicians requires patients to be registered to the Quebec Cannabis Registry if granted a prescription by a Quebec doctors .

Given that the current system is already complicated as is, this extra layer of work for patients has resulted in relatively very low adoption in Quebec based on various estimates compared to other provinces.

However, Quebec residents can get around the Quebec Cannabis Registry by working with a virtual cannabis clinic.

Given that these clinics are owned by or employ medical professionals from outside the province of Quebec, they are exempt from all that extra paperwork and bureaucracy. Not only that, they can apply from the comfort of their couch or bed.

What the Future Holds

As recently announced by Justin Trudeau’s Canadian liberal government, marijuana will become recreationally legal, on a federal and provincial level, beginning July 2018.

One caveat, however, each province will be responsible for setting their own ground rules, with a few exceptions. This means that one province may allow you to smoke anytime, anywhere while another may make it quite difficult, despite being legal.

Provincial governments have expressed that they feel pressure to have their rule books ready for this new industry by next summer and rightfully so.

Drafting all the governing legislations and mapping out and deploying the required infrastructure within twelve months is quite a feat. Hopefully, the time crunch won’t impact the industry in a negative way.

In the meantime, licensed producers keep on getting bigger and bigger, expanding their operations, buying out competitors and aggressively attacking new markets.

However, most LP’s are either at or near full production capacity, which can prove to be a big problem come next year when the market becomes recreational. It is important to note, however, that there are thousands of pending license producer applications according to recent estimates.

The market deficiency will attract new players and in turn intensified competition. From a consumer perspective, this is fantastic news for many different reasons. Not only will a surge in supply drive down the price but it will stimulate research and innovation, and bolster the industry.