As of September 2020, there are 420,235 Canadians registered as medical cannabis users. Of those, 377,024 purchase their medicine from federally licensed producers, and 43,211 are registered with Health Canada for personal and designated cultivation of medical cannabis.
The number may seem small, but it continues to grow quickly. Over the summer, the number of medical cannabis patient registrations grew by 24%, and patients registered to grow their own medical cannabis increased by 29% despite COVID-19 related delays from Health Canada. In fact, due to these delays, the Cannabis Regulations were amended in June to temporarily push the expiration date for existing registrations back six months. This amendment can partially explain the significant jump in registrations, but could other factors be at play?
The Effect of COVID-19
The reported numbers can be somewhat deceptive. As COVID-19 hit, and the entirety of Canada, particularly governmental bodies, were scrambling to set up an effective work-from-home strategy for employees, Health Canada fell behind with registrations and the reported numbers fell by 5%, from 320,340 in April to 303,211 in June before jumping back up to their current place.
Still, the increase remains sizeable, particularly for patients attempting to cultivate their own cannabis. Reported numbers for registrations of this type didn’t see as much fluctuation during March and April, however, Health Canada has noticed a different concerning trend.
When it comes to healthcare professionals writing prescriptions for patients to grow cannabis themselves, they generally authorize an incredibly high daily dose. While patients who purchase their cannabis from licensed producers are only authorized 2 – 3 grams per day, some healthcare professionals are authorizing an average of 36.2 grams per day for patients who grow their own. Since this amount is well above the daily average that published evidence and guidance suggest, Health Canada is concerned that some actors may be abusing the system.
Over the past year, 7,467 different health care practitioners helped patients register with licensed producers, and 2,339 helped them set up their registration for personal cultivation. Out of these healthcare professionals, 458 prescribed 25 grams per day or more, and 47 prescribed 100 grams per day or more. The majority of these instances occurred with healthcare providers in Ontario and BC.
Illicit Actors or a Reporting Error?
Are there illicit actors abusing the medical system, or could these fluctuations merely be the result of a reporting error? Are compassionate care professionals trying to work around an inconvenient system to provide better access to medical cannabis for their patients? Perhaps the nature of growing cannabis plants versus purchasing already-cultivated cannabis just doesn’t translate well into a daily average.
Whatever the cause, it’s clear that Canadians are utilizing the system, but Health Canada is struggling to find the balance between dealer and doctor.