On June 11, 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the plaintiff in R v Smith, ruling that patients have a right to possess and use cannabis for medical purposes in any form, not just the dried flowers made legally available under the MMPR.

By July 7, 2015 Health Canada responded by amending the MMPR (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) to allow Licensed Producers to process and sell cannabis oils as well as ‘fresh cannabis’. By July 31, Health Canada issued their first production licenses to two producers, Ontario’s The Peace Naturals Project and British Columbia’s Whistler Medical Marijuana.

Peace Naturals eventually received its sales license in early December, becoming the first commercially licensed cannabis oil retailer in Canada, followed now by 9 other producers in the past 6 months. Another 10 are currently licensed for production and are expected to get a sale license in the coming weeks and months.

In terms of Health Canada’s typical response time to court decisions, only taking a few months to not only amend the MMPR to allow for oils and ‘fresh cannabis’, as well as issue production licenses was relatively fast (likely because they had prepared for the outcome as a possibility beforehand). But the substance of their response, only allowing oils and not other forms of derivative products, would appear to not fully satisfy the court’s determination in Smith that patients have a right to use and access cannabis in *all* its forms.

As far as fresh cannabis, no producers have yet taken advantage of that license. While it could prove useful in the future, the feasibility of sending ‘fresh’ cannabis to patients through the mail seems obviously problematic.

However,  these limitations are not the only concern. While Health Canada initially moved rapidly to amend the rules and begin issuing licenses, the speed at which they have issued sale licenses has been far less swift. Several producers find themselves still awaiting a sales license ten months after being issued a production license.

“It’s been a year since the government changed the regulations to allow for the sale of oils by licensed producers. As far as I am aware Liam’s LP has been ready and has had oil on the shelf since last fall but they are still waiting for Health Canada to complete inspections so they can sell oils. In the meantime I see other LP’s be approved who have limited availability of oils. This is unacceptable to us. The MMPR, right now, is failing patients.” – Mandy McKnight.

One producer, CanniMed (Prairie Plant Systems), was so frustrated with delays in the approval process that their CEO sent Health Canada a letter in Decemberthreatening to begin selling to patients even without a sales license, noting product had been ready and waiting for approval from Health Canada since October. They finally received their sale license a few weeks later, in early January.

Some of the cannabis oils available from BC's CannaFarms

Some of the cannabis oils available from BC’s CannaFarms

On top of these limitations (only 11 producers out of 22 who are currently serving patients), those currently selling also have limitations. CBD oils are in high demand, especially for pediatric patients, and of the 18 oil varieties available today, only 3 are high in CBD. While many Licensed Producers do carry high CBD dried flowers, this has yet to fully translate into high CBD products.

In addition, of those 11 currently licensed for sale, 3 licenses belong to one producer (Mettrum, who has two separate locations, each with an oil sale license, as well as owns and distributes AgriPharm) and one producer,Organigram, who was licensed June 12, have yet to offer any products for sale. This brings the actual count of individual producers with current, applicable sales licenses to only 7.

Since switching between producers is not allowed and registering with multiple producers can be cumbersome, this severely limits access for those currently registered with one of the dozen or so producers without an oil sale license.

This means many patients who are registered under the MMPR are left making their own oils, edibles, etc, or sourcing them from dispensaries or friends and family. So while they have the right to make and possess cannabis in any form, as deemed protected by the Supreme Court in R v Smith, they have no legal, reliable source to buy this product.

Homemade cannabis oil. image via cbc.ca

Homemade cannabis oil. image via cbc.ca

Mandy Mcknight, whose 7 year old son Liam Mcknight struggles with Dravet Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder causing nearly constant seizures, has been using a homemade cannabis oil for years now made with products she sources from Bedrocan. The process is time consuming, messy and it can be difficult to produce a fully standardized dose, but McKnight has been stuck producing her own oil because the product she uses has only recently become available in an oil form (Bedrocan’s high-CBD strain Bedrolite, which recently became available through Tweed’s online store. The McKnight’s still had to go back to Liam’s Doctor to register with Tweed to be able to order it).

“It’s been a year since the government changed the regulations to allow for the sale of oils by licensed producers,” says Mandy McKnight. “As far as I am aware Liam’s LP has been ready and has had oil on the shelf since last fall but they are still waiting for health Canada to complete inspections so they can sell oils. In the meantime I see other LP’s be approved who have limited availability of oils. This is unacceptable to us.

“The MMPR, right now is failing patients. It’s failing Liam as we are unable to access a tested, standardized medicine he requires without hitting roadblocks. It is true that one or two other LP’s are offering a high CBD oil suitable for Liam but under the rules of the MMPR in order for us to access medicine from another LP we have to go back to our Doctor each time and start the process over because each prescription is tied to only one LP. This is a huge barrier to access as it is hard enough to find a doctor to sign the original prescription but having then to go back and have to ask for a new prescription every time for a different LP is frustrating.”

Part of the issue is likely that Health Canada, and specifically, the Office of Medical Cannabis is underfunded and understaffed. The implementation of the MMPR has been a monumental task for the OMC, with the processing of over 1,000 applications and the inspections of well over 100 prospective facilities in addition to monthly (or more!) inspections of all of the existing 31 producers.

Add onto that the need for the agency to now also inspect oil production spaces and equipment, and then come back again and inspect the end product to allow for the issuance of a sales license, and it’s a timely process.

Cannabis oil Canada Tweed

Cannabis oil from Tweed Inc.

The inclusion of only oils and not other derivative products is understandable from the department’s traditionally slow and conservative approach. Medical professionals appear far more receptive to oils than encouraging patients to inhale smoke or even vapour, but other products like infused edibles, hash, shatter, etc, tend to be contrary to this strict medical approach. Oils and (eventually) oil capsules allow doctors to prescribe thc/cbd ratios by a specific mg/ml, a language they understand.

Currently, Health Canada limits the potency of THC levels in oils at 30mg/ml in bulk and 10mg/ml in capsule form. No LP’s sell anything other than ‘bulk’ oil, generally available in 50 or 100 ml bottles, with a measured oral syringe or dropper. There are no limits on CBD levels. THC and CBD are the only cannabinoids that Health Canada requires producers test for and label. While these limitations make sense from Health Canada’s conservative approach to approvals, it still means an incomplete system that is not yet properly providing for all patient needs, nor meeting the spirit of the court’s findings in R v Smith.

Whatever bureaucratic or political issues that are at play, the fact remains there are patients who need access to products that are not yet available for sale. Some of these products are sitting on shelves waiting for approval for sale. Others are still not being produced by the available producers. And for the MMPR to function properly, patients need access to these products.

 

 

source – https://news.liftcannabis.ca/2016/06/15/where-are-the-oils/