Canada’s cannabis regulations continue to evolve

| Sarah Clark

Health Canada’s 2022–2023 Departmental Results Report shows the cannabis industry in Canada continuing to evolve and expand.

In the past year, the federal health regulator granted an additional 179 licences for the cultivation, processing, and sale of cannabis for medical purposes, 125 licences for research, analytical testing, and/or cannabis drug, and 120 for industrial hemp. The agency also granted 1,805 import and export permits, primarily for export. 

The number of Canadians utilizing the legal market has also increased, with the proportion of household spending on cannabis in the legal market growing from 9% in Q3 2018 to 71% in Q4 of 2022. 

Health Canada also continues to oversee the country’s medical cannabis framework. In April 2022, Health Canada published the Guidance on Personal Production of Cannabis for Medical Purposes, based on stakeholder feedback, outlining factors that Health Canada may use when considering whether to refuse or revoke a registration for personal or designated production of cannabis for medical purposes.

In addition, Health Canada has been seeking additional evidence from healthcare practitioners to substantiate or support authorizations for high daily amounts of cannabis, and communicated concerning trends to the appropriate healthcare practitioner, often the Provincial College of Physicians. 

Health Canada has been increasingly using its authority to refuse a request for authorization for medical cannabis if it was not supported by evidence and could be considered to represent a risk to public health and safety, especially if it is believed the cannabis was being diverted to an illicit market or activity.

Health Canada also made amendments to the Cannabis Act and its Regulations that came into force in December 2022 that sought to better facilitate cannabis testing by improving access to testing materials and broadening the educational qualifications for those responsible for testing cannabis at licensed sites, as well as increasing the public possession limit for cannabis beverages to better align with other cannabis products.

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In March 2023, Health Canada published a Notice of Intent in the Canada Gazette, Part I, seeking feedback on potential amendments to the Cannabis Regulations. The agency’s goal with these potential amendments is to streamline and clarify existing requirements; eliminate duplicative requirements; and reduce burdens where possible.

A public opinion research report that gathered information on the views and practices of patients and healthcare practitioners on access to cannabis for medical purposes was published in October 2022

In that report, Health Canada screened 91 instances of adverse reactions associated with cannabis products (24% required hospitalization and 4% were reported as life-threatening). The Department also published two annual reports highlighting adverse reactions involving cannabis products (October 17, 2018 – December 31, 2019 and January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020).

In the past fiscal year, Health Canada also continued to conduct scientific assessments to characterize any possible risks associated with certain formulations or ingredients in cannabis products and responded to over 250 risk-related requests. 

In collaboration with research partners, the Department also published three peer-reviewed research reports: one of these issues was related to the pharmacological differences between different intoxicating cannabinoids; one on the characterization of by-products of components of cannabis vaping emissions; and one on the characterization of metal contaminants in cannabis vaping liquids.

Health Canada says it also continued to deliver public education and awareness campaigns in 2022-23. The Department updated and relaunched its Pursue Your Passion marketing campaign as both a virtual, ambassador-led program in schools and a teacher-led interactive lesson focussed on educating youth aged 13-15 on the physical and mental health effects of cannabis use. In March 2023, over 120 of these “ambassador-led sessions” were hosted in schools across Canada.

In May 2022, Health Canada also launched its s Reduce your risk: Choose legal cannabis campaign—a social media outreach campaign designed to provide Canadians with information on the risks of illicit cannabis products and how to recognize the differences between legal and illegal cannabis products. The campaign utilized web content, infographics, video, and various social media content.

Lastly, the Department also published two other resources to the Cannabis Resource Series—a set of public education resources built to provide Canadians with additional health and safety information related to cannabis: Growing cannabis at home safely and Cannabis accessories for inhalation: minimizing your risk when smoking, vaping and dabbing.

Health Canada also invested over $9.6 million in contribution agreements In 2022-23 through its Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) to support 24 projects related to the use of cannabis and its health effects, with a focus on youth and Indigenous populations. The majority of these projects were completed in 2022-23.

The federal health agency also led the development of multiple marketing campaigns on cannabis to raise awareness of the risks of cannabis and help prevent cannabis-related harms, especially to children.

Health Canada’s Indigenous Navigator Service, which supports Indigenous-affiliated applicants through the federal commercial cannabis licensing process to encourage Indigenous participation in the industry, supported an additional 13 licences for cultivating or processing cannabis to Indigenous-owned or affiliated applicants in 2022-23. This brings the total of licensed Indigenous businesses in Canada to 56. In addition, six licences were awarded in 2022-23 to Indigenous-owned or affiliated applicants to cultivate or process industrial hemp, for a total of 27.

Featured image via Organnicraft

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