Enzo DiMatteo: 4/20 shout-out to Canada’s medical cannabis pioneers

The annual high holiday of cannabis culture has this writer thinking about the trailblazers of legalization this pandemic

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      I visited the new cannabis shop in my neighbourhood the other day for a little inspiration to celebrate 4/20. 

      The annual high holiday dedicated to cannabis culture has taken on a different vibe now that weed is legal in Canada. But the pandemic has put a crimp in festivities once again this year. There will be no public smoke-outs featuring foot-long doobies.

      But there’s still work to be done when it comes to spreading weed wisdom in a legal market in Canada that’s still obsessed with branding.

      If the stratospheric growth in the popularity of pot during the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s about the power of cannabis to heal. 

      Sales are through the roof, with Canadians spending more than $2.6 billion on cannabis products in 2020. That’s more than double over 2019. The growing affordability and consistency of product has something to do with that. So does the fact that more bricks-and-mortar retail shops are increasing access for consumers.

      But there’s also no denying that cannabis has given many Canadians much-needed relief from coronavirus-induced stress. Even those among us who use pot recreationally are realizing that there are many therapeutic benefits besides just getting high. Sleep is a big one for me.

      However, for those who use marijuana as medicine for a range of health issues—whether as pain relief or as part of treatment for chemotherapy—it’s a different story. 

      Although it was medical users that challenged prohibition in court and won legalization, the weed market continues to be overwhelmingly geared to recreational users. For most medpot users, what’s on offer in the legal market is mostly too expensive or of questionable quality.

      The Cannabis 2.0 rollout of edibles, topicals, and concentrates last year was supposed to help change that. But medical cannabis sales continue to be stagnant, making up less than 20 percent of the market with annual sales of some $455 million in 2020. 

      And outside of oils and concentrates, which deliver a more powerful hit with 60 to 80 percent THC required by patients, there’s little optimism for growth in the market in the long term, as dosage limitations of a maximum 10 milligrams on edibles and other products in Canada push medpot users to the illicit market or to grow their own.

      There are some 364,000 licensed medical cannabis users in Canada. But three-quarters of those are in Ontario and Alberta.

      All the science that legalization was supposed to seed is mostly happening in the legacy market that existed before legalization. Research into the new healing properties of THC, CBD, and now CBG, continues. Only a handful of LPs, however, cater to medical clientele in Canada. That could change as more companies are expected to offer insurance coverage to licensed users. But that’s not expected to happen on a massive scale.

      To be sure, some Canadian LPs are already chasing the next big thing—the recreational market in the U.S.

      So when you light up this 4/20, don’t forget to give one up for pioneers who came before us and made legalization possible in the first place.