Canada’s sanctioned marijuana producers have a lot going for them.
Strict federal regulations ensure their products are safe, of a reliable potency, and grown in a sterile environment, explains an infographic recently published by one of those licensed producers (LPs).
But as the Straight reported last year and, again, last week (January 14), companies authorized under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) have had a tough time attracting a sizable client base.
LPs, of which there are now 27, together sold 1,873 kilograms of marijuana during the third quarter of 2015. Meanwhile, Vancouver’s illegal dispensaries sold three times that amount during the same period, according to the Straight’s (very rough) calculations.
But although the storefronts have customers, the same infographic by Aphria Inc. suggests they lack consumer safeguards and other regulations beneficial to patients.
Dan Sutton is managing director of Tantalus Labs, a Maple Ridge operation that describes itself as in the late stages of the federal government’s long application process for would-be LPs. In a telephone interview, he suggested that if the dispensaries have a distribution model people seem to like, and if the licensed producers have a superior system for supply, why not pair the two?
“Their [LPs] ability to produce quality-assured, packed, regulated cannabis for the dispensaries is an excellent interim solution that would provide people with the ability to access cannabis while at the same time knowing where it came from, having an audit trail, and providing tax revenue to the Canadian government,” Sutton said.
He noted that the new Liberal government’s move to legalization of recreational cannabis began with a promise to consult with the provinces, so it will likely be between three and four years before regulated systems are actually in place across the country.
In the meantime, Sutton continued, the federal government could modify the MMPR—regulations, meaning it can be tweaked without Parliament’s approval—to allow the LPs to supply the dispensaries, effectively using them as middlemen so patients could access cannabis grown under Ottawa’s strict quality controls without dealing with that system’s onerous mail-order requirement.
“We would ensure public health and safety for cannabis that has gone through the most rigorous standard for quality assurance in the world,” he added.
While Sutton posed the idea as an obvious win-win, representatives for both the LPs and dispensaries were cold to the idea.
Marc Wayne is board chair of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association (CMCIA), whose membership consists of more than a dozen of the 27 LPs operating today. In a telephone interview, he maintained that the legal status of the storefront businesses would have to change before CMCIA members would even consider such a partnership.
“It’s not a question of whether dispensaries or storefront locations [as a concept] are suitable,” he explained. “It’s a question of whether dispensaries that are currently illegal are acceptable. And I don’t think that is acceptable.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Jamie Shaw, a member of the B.C. Compassion Club Society and president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD).
“I’m not sure the MMPR with dispensaries is the best way to go,” she told the Straight. “For us, if they amended the MMPR to take into account our feedback that we have been giving to Health Canada, that would definitely be something we would look at. But until they do that, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to us.”
Shaw argued the LPs lack accountability to patients. She also claimed that the quality of the LPs' products is compromised by arduous and arbitrary government regulations.
On the flip side, the dispensaries have proven there is nothing wrong with their existing sources for supply, Shaw continued. She noted most of Vancouver’s estimated 100 dispensaries have been up and running for more than a year now and, even according to police, have experienced very few incidents related to health or safety.
“In terms of the current LPs and the products that they are allowed to carry, I don’t think there would be much interest in that,” Shaw concluded.
Wayne, who is also president of Bedrocan Canada, an Ontario-based LP, was joined on the call by Cam Battley, a spokesperson for CMCIA. Together, they didn’t entirely rule the idea out, but both repeatedly stressed the dispensaries’ current business practices would not satisfy LPs’ concerns for consumer protection.
“If somebody wanted to make a formal proposal on something…CMICIA would take it seriously and we would give a serious response to it,” Battley said. “But at this point, it is simply hypothetical.”