In a surprising twist, recent data indicates that Canada’s medical cannabis sector is witnessing a steady decline in registrations. As per the latest numbers from Health Canada and Statistics Canada, active medical cannabis registrations are at their lowest since the landmark legalization of recreational marijuana in 2018.
Significant Registration Drop
Recent data indicates that by the end of March this year, there were only about 212,000 active marijuana patient registrations with federal license holders. This number starkly contrasts the registrations recorded in October 2018 when Canada legalized recreational cannabis, which was upward of 340,000.
Decreasing Medical Cannabis Spending
What’s more, spending in the medical cannabis sector is on a downward spiral. In the initial six months of 2023, Canadians spent merely CA$185 million ($135 million) on medical cannabis, the smallest first-half sum since 2016. The previous year saw Canadian patients spending CA$410 million on medical cannabis, which was 7.4% less than their expenditure in 2021.
Rise of Recreational Outlets
A significant factor contributing to the dwindling medical cannabis numbers is the mushrooming of recreational cannabis stores. With greater accessibility and variety at these outlets, many patients are switching to them, opting for convenience over the traditional medical route.
Pharmacy’s Place in the Picture
Interestingly, the Canadian government has been increasingly hesitant to dispense medical cannabis in pharmacies, even though that’s generally where the product is prepared and sold in many European nations. Despite multiple pleas from the country’s largest pharmacy chain, Shoppers Drug Mart, the government has refrained from integrating medical cannabis into traditional pharmaceutical avenues. This reluctance led Shoppers to sell its medical cannabis venture to Avicanna, a Toronto-based firm.
Ken Weisbrod, a licensed pharmacist who had a hand in Shoppers’ cannabis portfolio, expresses dismay at the government’s apparent disinterest in a genuine medical system for cannabis. “Countries exploring medical cannabis are ensuring integration with their current health care systems,” Weisbrod notes, hinting at Canada’s misstep in keeping retail pharmacy sidelined.
Another stumbling block for the medical cannabis community in Canada is the government’s decision to tax medical cannabis at the same rate as its recreational counterpart. Some authorities fear that people will abandon the adult-use market to avoid higher prices if the Canadian government chooses to tax the two commodities differently. However, Weisbrod believes that these concerns are baseless. He points to places like Colorado, where distinct tax systems for medical and recreational use coexist without issues.
Domestic Dip vs. Export Surge
While domestic medical sales are floundering, Canadian medical cannabis exports are flourishing. The fiscal year 2022-23 saw Canada exporting medical cannabis products worth CA$160 million, marking a notable 50% hike from the previous fiscal year.
A Potential Solution
Weisbrod, who currently consults in the international health sector, suggests a potential remedy lies in provinces establishing independent medical systems outside Health Canada’s jurisdiction. He advocates for assimilating medical cannabis into the pharmacy realm, following traditional medicinal guidelines. Weisbrod believes this move would bolster cannabis’s reputation and acceptance in mainstream health care.
The Bottom Line
While medical cannabis faces multiple challenges in Canada, the solution may be to look at international success models and adapt. As Weisbrod rightly puts it, “It’s crucial for our health care providers to be actively involved, ensuring our youth have the right oversight on what they’re consuming.”