Canada Medical Marijuana
A new medical marijuana program officially began on April 1. Here are 25 answers to commonly asked questions about the MMPR.
1. Is medical marijuana legal in Canada?
Yes. Medical marijuana became legal in 2000, when a landmark court ruling overturned the prohibition of marijuana for medical purposes. Since then, numerous court decisions have forced Health Canada to create and adapt federal laws for patients who need medical marijuana.
2. What is the MMPR?
The MMPR (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) is the new set of rules for growing, buying and selling medical marijuana in Canada. It outlines a system for doctors, patients and large-scale commercial growers. These growers are called Licensed Producers.
The MMPR is Health Canada’s first attempt at a commercial industry for medical marijuana. The MMPR replaces the previous rules of the MMAR (Marihuana Medical Access Regulations), which were officially repealed on March 31, 2014.
3. What was the MMAR?
Prior to the new rules, the MMAR outlined a system for doctors, patients and non-commercial growers. The MMAR allowed patients to grow for themselves or designate an individual to grow for them. Health Canada was the only source of medical marijuana for patients that wished to purchase it.
4. Why the switch?
Health Canada was under pressure from courts to improve access to medical marijuana. The new program makes it easier for patients to join and provides them with more product choices.
Health Canada also wanted to ban legal home grows, which have skyrocketed in recent years. However, the ban was controversial and has been temporarily overturned by a court injunction.
5. How do I sign up for the MMPR?
Patients wishing to access medical marijuana no longer need to contact Health Canada. Instead, the responsibility of authorizing patients falls entirely on doctors.
In order to purchase medical marijuana from a Licensed Producer, patients need to have a medical document, which is similar to a prescription.
6. How many Canadians use medical marijuana?
Nearly 40,000 patients across the country are authorized to use medical marijuana. This number is expected to reach upwards of 400,000 over the next ten years.
The vast majority of current patients obtained their authorizations under the MMAR. Although the MMAR has been repealed, these patients can still sign up with a Licensed Producer using their old authorizations.
7. What is the role of doctors in the MMPR?
Doctors are now the sole gatekeepers of medical marijuana. Patients who wish to access medical marijuana need to obtain a medical document from a doctor or nurse practitioner.
8. What does the medical document cover?
The medical document covers basic information such as the daily amount needed and the condition being treated. In this regard, it is similar to a prescription.
A sample medical document can be accessed on Health Canada’s website.
9. How many doctors support medical marijuana?
More than 5,000 doctors have written a recommendation for medical marijuana in the past. This represents about 7% of all doctors in the country.
10. What conditions can marijuana be prescribed for?
The MMPR allows medical marijuana to be recommended as a treatment for any condition. But there are no official guidelines on its use for specific conditions.
Under the old program, conditions were split into categories and patients with certain conditions were required to obtain support from multiple doctors.
11. How do I get a medical document?
Besides requesting one from your family physician, there are a number of clinics that specifically cater to medical marijuana. Many offer both in-person and online appointments.
Patients may need to pay out of the pocket expenses for these services. Typical costs for an online appointment range from $200-400.
12. Where do I buy medical marijuana?
Licensed Producers are the only legal source of medical marijuana under the MMPR. The MMPR also prohibits storefronts and dispensaries, meaning that all sales must be done online or by phone. Orders are delivered to patients by mail.
13. How much does medical marijuana cost?
Under the MMPR, Licensed Producers are given full control over prices. Current prices range from $5-12 per gram, with some producers offering discounts for low-income patients. Prices are expected to drop as the program matures.
14. Can I buy edibles, tinctures or other forms of medical marijuana?
The MMPR only allows dried marijuana to be sold. The sale of all other forms of medical marijuana is prohibited.
However, a B.C. judge previously overturned a similar law and a group of patients have already launched a constitutional challenge against the MMPR’s ban on non-dried forms of marijuana.
15. What happens if I want to grow my own?
The MMPR prohibits anyone other than Licensed Producers from growing marijuana. But this rule has been temporarily reversed by a federal court injunction.
The injunction allows growers with a license from the old program to continue growing until a trial is heard. The upcoming trial will challenge the ban on residential grows and is expected to take place in early 2015.
16. How do I find the right strain?
There are no official guidelines on what strains of marijuana are better for specific conditions. However, some Licensed Producers offer strain recommendations based on patient feedback.
17. Who are the Licensed Producers?
Licensed Producers are companies that have been authorized by Health Canada to grow and sell medical marijuana under the new program.
Many are start-up businesses headed by entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds. A few Licensed Producers were formed by existing medical marijuana companies, such as Holland-based Bedrocan and former Health Canada supplier Prairie Plant Systems.
18. How many Licensed Producers are there?
As of April 1, there are 12 Licensed Producers listed on Health Canada’s website. Four of them currently have product available for sale: Bedrocan, CanniMed, Mettrum and Peace Naturals Project.
19. How do I register with a Licensed Producer?
After obtaining a medical document, patients can register with a Licensed Producer of their choice. The registration process is different for each Licensed Producer, but typically involves submitting a registration form and validating the medical document.
20. Can I sign up with more than one Licensed Producer?
Yes, but it’s complicated. Patients are permitted to register with more than one Licensed Producer, but a separate medical document must be submitted for each, meaning that a doctor will have to issue multiple medical documents and split the daily amount of marijuana between them.
21. How do I become a Licensed Producer?
Becoming a Licensed Producer involves applying through Health Canada. It is an expensive and time-consuming process, since the rules for growing and selling medical marijuana are strict and require a sizeable investment.
But Health Canada predicts the MMPR will generate roughly $1.3 billion in yearly sales by 2024. Likewise, the industry has already become very competitive. Since last summer, Health Canada has received over 600 applications from hopeful Licensed Producers.
22. What is Health Canada’s position on medical marijuana?
Health Canada states that it “does not endorse the use of marijuana” and that “marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine.” But “courts have required reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana for medical purposes,” which is why a federal program exists.
23. Why is marijuana not an approved drug?
Like the FDA, Health Canada is responsible for reviewing and approving all new drugs. Typically, pharmaceutical companies are required to submit extensive clinical trial data to have a drug approved.
Health Canada states that it has not approved marijuana as a prescription drug because it “has not gone through the necessary rigorous scientific trials for efficacy or safety.” Although some clinical data exists, no company or government agency has funded large-scale trials on medical marijuana.
24. What resources does Health Canada provide?
Along with the MMPR, Health Canada recently published a review of the evidence surrounding marijuana’s use as a medicine. The review can be accessed on Health Canada’s website and covers dosing, potential therapeutic uses, precautions and adverse effects.
Health Canada is planning to provide an additional document on medical marijuana “to help support doctors and nurse practitioners in making decisions.”
25. What initiatives is Health Canada undertaking?
On March 31, Health Canada announced an initiative to “address common concerns around the use of marijuana as a treatment.”
According to the department, this involves working with Licensed Producers and provincial doctor and nurse licensing bodies to monitor “how doctors and nurse practitioners are authorizing the use of marijuana.”