Pot short­age feared

Med­i­cal users fear postle­gal­iza­tion de­mand will en­dan­ger ac­cess

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - NEWS - JAC­QUIE MILLER

An ad­vo­cate for med­i­cal mar­i­juana users says pa­tients are con­cerned their sup­ply is go­ing to be pinched by the loom­ing de­mand for recre­ational weed.

It’s a worry sparked by an in­con­ve­nient truth: If Canada le­gal­izes recre­ational mar­i­juana, as planned, by next sum­mer, there prob­a­bly won’t be enough pot to go around.

Health Canada says it ex­pects grow­ers to give pri­or­ity to med­i­cal pa­tients who rely on cannabis for ev­ery­thing from chronic pain to in­som­nia.

But an or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients says the govern­ment needs a pol­icy to en­sure that hap­pens or sick peo­ple might be at risk when the mar­ket opens up to a flood of so­cial users.

“It’s im­por­tant that th­ese prod­ucts con­tinue to be avail­able as we head into le­gal­iza­tion,” said Jonathan Zaid, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cana­di­ans for Fair Ac­cess to Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana, an ed­u­ca­tion and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion. He said he hears from pa­tients who are wor­ried.

“It’s con­cern­ing that there is no spe­cific sup­ply guar­an­tee for med­i­cal cannabis pa­tients. We are re­ally ad­vo­cat­ing for Health Canada as well as the in­dus­try to en­sure that the med­i­cal mar­ket is fully sup­plied, to en­sure pa­tients have re­li­able, con­sis­tent ac­cess.”

Pri­vate grow­ers li­censed by Health Canada to sell to med­i­cal users will also sup­ply the recre­ational pot mar­ket. Many grow­ers are ex­pand­ing as fast as they can. Health Canada is ap­prov­ing li­cences more quickly: the depart­ment stream­lined the pro­ce­dure for ob­tain­ing them and hired more staff.

Still, some an­a­lysts say there won’t be enough mar­i­juana for ev­ery­one by July 2018, when the fed­eral govern­ment has promised recre­ational pot will be le­gal.

Zaid says med­i­cal pa­tients al­ready have trou­ble ob­tain­ing what they need. Health Canada says that, over­all, there is enough med­i­cal mar­i­juana avail­able. How­ever, grow­ers can run out of par­tic­u­lar strains or prod­ucts, Zaid said.

The num­ber of peo­ple sign­ing up for med­i­cal mar­i­juana is also in­creas­ing rapidly. There were about 200,000 pa­tients reg­is­tered in Canada at the end of June, com­pared with about 30,000 just two years ear­lier. The num­ber has been grow­ing by about 10 per cent ev­ery month, ac­cord­ing to Health Canada.

Will those pa­tients get first dibs on the cannabis sup­ply?

In a state­ment, Health Canada said it ex­pects grow­ers will “pri­or­i­tize sales to in­di­vid­u­als who re­quire cannabis for med­i­cal pur­poses over non-med­i­cal sales.”

“Health Canada would con­tinue to closely mon­i­tor pa­tients’ ac­cess to cannabis for med­i­cal pur­poses dur­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion. The depart­ment will con­tinue to work with pa­tients and their ad­vo­cates to en­sure that in­di­vid­u­als have rea­son­able ac­cess to cannabis for med­i­cal pur­poses.”

Six grow­ers sur­veyed by Post­media, in­clud­ing three of the largest – Tweed, Aurora and Aphria – say they will take care of their med­i­cal pa­tients.

“We know this is on peo­ple’s minds, based on feed­back and chat­ter on so­cial me­dia,” said Jor­dan Sin­clair, spokesman for Tweed in Smiths Falls. “Pa­tients are wor­ried about it.” Tweed’s par­ent com­pany, Canopy Growth Corp., has promised that sales to any pa­tients signed up by July 1, 2018 will be given pri­or­ity over recre­ational cannabis sales. The com­pany will track how much and what type of cannabis med­i­cal pa­tients use, and re­serve that amount, said Sin­clair.

Tweed re­cently signed an agree­ment with New Brunswick to help sup­ply that province with recre­ational pot. If other prov­inces move to lock in their sup­ply, Canopy Growth will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to fore­cast its in­ven­tory pre­cisely, said Sin­clair. The com­pany is grow­ing quickly and has fa­cil­i­ties across the coun­try.

Aurora, an­other ma­jor grower, is build­ing a huge green­house at the Ed­mon­ton air­port. Like Canopy, it’s pre­par­ing to sup­ply both the Cana­dian recre­ational mar­ket and cus­tomers over­seas.

Aurora re­cently be­gan sell­ing in Ger­many, and hopes to add other Euro­pean coun­tries as they le­gal­ize med­i­cal cannabis, said ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent Cam Bat­t­ley. There is a huge global de­mand for qual­ity, reg­u­lated med­i­cal cannabis, and Cana­dian com­pa­nies have the chance to be­come lead­ers in sup­ply­ing it, he said. Cana­dian grow­ers are al­ready ex­port­ing to a hand­ful of coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Brazil, Chile and New Zealand.

How­ever, Bat­t­ley em­pha­sized that Aurora will sell to med­i­cal pa­tients in Canada first. “We’ve made that com­mit­ment very strongly and we’ve been re­peat­ing that for two years now.

“Some peo­ple have been skep­ti­cal that (grow­ers) will pri­or­i­tize med­i­cal sales, but for us it’s non­nego­tiable.”

Christina, a 42-year-old Ottawa woman who buys med­i­cal mari- juana from Aurora to help with chronic pain and PTSD she suf­fers af­ter a ma­jor car crash, said she’s con­cerned that prices might go up if there’s a short­age.

She en­joys “com­pas­sion­ate” pric­ing from Aurora, pay­ing less per gram be­cause she’s low-in­come, sur­viv­ing on dis­abil­ity pay­ments. Christina didn’t want her last name pub­li­cized be­cause there is still a stigma sur­round­ing cannabis use. She was re­lieved the com­pany has promised to sell to pa­tients first. “I be­lieve them.”

The Cana­dian govern­ment plans to main­tain a sep­a­rate stream for med­i­cal pa­tients. How­ever, there may be some changes.

“Ad­di­tional de­tails on how the li­cens­ing, pro­duc­tion and med­i­cal ac­cess regime un­der the new Act would be ad­min­is­tered are be­ing de­vel­oped,” ac­cord­ing to Health Canada. “Once de­vel­oped, the govern­ment plans to con­sult broadly on the pro­posed li­cens­ing regime with the prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries, in­dus­try, In­dige­nous peo­ples and other in­ter­ested stake­hold­ers.”

Some in the in­dus­try ex­pect the govern­ment will al­low med­i­cal mar­i­juana to be sold at phar­ma­cies. Now it’s only avail­able on­line, di­rectly from the grow­ers. Grow­ers and pa­tient ad­vo­cates are also lob­by­ing hard for med­i­cal mar­i­juana to be ex­empt from all taxes.

How long will it take for Canada’s cannabis grow­ers to sup­ply enough pot for both med­i­cal pa­tients and recre­ational users?

One cannabis an­a­lyst es­ti­mates that might hap­pen around 2020. That’s when the mar­ket will reach “equi­lib­rium” – sup­ply will equal de­mand – in the best es­ti­mate of Greg McLeish, an an­a­lyst for bro­ker­age firm Mackie Re­search Capital Corp.

The black mar­ket will “con­tinue to be the prin­ci­pal source of sup­ply for the ma­jor­ity of recre­ational users for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” ac­cord­ing to his Sept. 20 re­port.

And what will hap­pen in July, when the govern­ment has promised recre­ational pot will be le­gal?

“There are go­ing to be line­ups,” said McLeish in an in­ter­view.

“There are go­ing to be short­ages.”

POST­MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Mas­ter grower Ryan Dou­glas does an in­spec­tion at the Tweed mar­i­juana grow­ing plant in Smiths Falls.

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