Health Canada is in a bind. The department responsible for overseeing the processing of medical marijuana applications has received 858 of them as of May 2014, and new applications are coming in at a rate of 25 per week. This is in stark contrast from September of last year, when Health Canada only had 156 applications to sort through. However, the number tripled by the following February, then doubled in 3 months. So far only 13 licensed suppliers have been approved and listed on the department’s website as an authorized marijuana dealer for patients seeking cannabis for pain and other symptoms, per their doctor’s recommendation.
On April 1st, Health Canada radically changed the rules of the medical marijuana industry as they shifted the marijuana industry from a group of thousands of individual growers, loosely regulated, to a commercially competitive sector. So far prices have been set by the free market and Health Canada has imposed no limits on the number of sanctioned indoor cannabis farms one grower can have.
As a result, what began as only a few applications per month has turned into a flood of marijuana merchants eager to capitalize on the booming market. According to a spokeswoman for Health Canada, of the 858 applications, 370 were returned as incomplete, 149 were denied, 30 were rescinded, and approximately 300 are under review.
The backlog of applications is starting to frustrate prospective medical marijuana owners like Uma Syed, president of Toronto-based CannMart Inc. “They’re really an unfortunate bureaucracy under siege,” he says. “They’re dealing with a situation they weren’t prepared for….there’s something really out of whack. We’re all dressed up and nowhere to go.”
Despite applicant frustrations, a second Health Canada spokesperson said that the agency refuses to fast track the review process, which includes a rigorous file review, review of personnel security, site inspections, records-keeping, equipment, and quality control specifications. Health Canada has also been slowed down by several lawsuits that challenge the new process.
Meanwhile aspiring medical marijuana business owners find themselves stuck between an overwhelmed regulatory agency, and the likelihood of a once in a lifetime business venture that will produce a lot of green.
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