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The Canadian Approach to Cannabis

When recreational cannabis was fully legalised in Canada in October of 2018, the country became the first in the G7 group to make this move, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stating at the time that the move would “keep the money out of the pockets of organised crime“. However, with recent reports that the Canadian cannabis industry could be set for “carnage” amid the current climate of steep losses, we take a look at the country’s previously (and still relatively) exemplary past and review the revolutionary legislature that allowed for the former flourishing of the industry.

The current state of the industry

As of the final quarter of 2018, around 4.6 million Canadians over the age of 15 said they used cannabis, a number of people that had remained constant since the previous quarter. This is interesting to note, as this lack of movement suggests that the legalisation of cannabis in the country did not result in a significant difference to the number of people using the drug. However, it was also reported that almost 1 in 5 Canadians considered the use of cannabis in the first quarter of the following year, suggesting the market was not completely stuck in place.

Although there are widely varying estimates about the current market value and the projected growth of the industry in the country, Prohibition Partners has predicted that by 2024, the cannabis market in Canada will be worth around US$3.4 billion. This is an interesting figure to consider, as the country’s American neighbour’s industry is set to ‘be worth more than $47.3 billion within the next five years’, eclipsing Canada’s market by a significant margin despite discrepancies across different states when its comes to legislation of the drug. However, cannabis in Canada remains a great deal cheaper than the drug in the U.S due to the country’s comparatively longer history of legal supply.

How did they get there?

Health Canada first granted access to medical cannabis back in 2001 when regulations were put in place under the MMAR. However, few citizens obtained MMAR approval for several years following this regulation being put in place, with this widespread lack of access leading to the regulations in place being amended in 2013 and renamed as the MMPR (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations). The country then continued to amend these regulations in both 2014 and 2016 before, in 2017, the country’s House of Commons began discussions about regulating non-medical forms of the drug.

Following the 2018 Cannabis Act, adults (aged over 18) in Canada are now allowed to:

  • Buy cannabis-based products from a territorial or provincial retailer.
  • Grow up to 4 plants per residence, note not per person, for strictly personal use when using licensed seedlings.
  • Publicly possess any amount of legal cannabis up to 30 grams when in a dried form, or an equivalent amount when in a non-dried form.

Protecting young people

Health Canada has stated that one of the main purposes for the Cannabis Act being put into place is to prevent young and underage people from accessing cannabis through a displacement of the illegal cannabis market. This disruption of illegal practices is hoped to occur through strict criminal penalties being enacted against those facilitating the consumption of cannabis by young people. The ban of cannabis-based products that are made to appeal to the country’s youth and a ban on the sale of cannabis products through vending machines is also hoped to help with combating youth use of the drug.

The Cannabis Act also outlines that information on the risks of use and standardised cannabis symbols must be put on all legal cannabis products. Additionally, such legalised products should only be sold through retailers that are specifically authorised by their provincial or territorial government to sell the drug.

Looking forward

As one of the first countries to legalise recreational cannabis and make medical cannabis far more commonplace, Canada still serves as a promising example to many European markets looking to implement pro cannabis legislature in years to come. However, with the undoubted current slump in the market in Canada, with ‘a sharp three-month selloff’ where multiple companies have had to ‘surrender half their value or more’, the jury is out over whether Canada’s cannabis industry will recover or stay in decline in the years to come. Canada therefore serves as a country that at once serves as a pioneering example and a cautionary warning of how cannabis markets can fluctuate.

For more in depth information on different regulations in various countries and how this affects pharmacists, we recommend accessing our in depth modules available on our website. Here, you can find up to date information on CBMPs and how best to prescribe them. You can also explore our news section and evidence base for the latest information on this ever-changing area of research.

We urge anyone considering the use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.

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