cannabis legalization - scales of justiceCanada has effectively legalized cannabis for certain medical uses since 1999.

200,000 medical cannabis users can currently buy their marijuana from one of 74 licensed growers.

In addition, the laws have become more liberal over the years due to court challenges regarding existing regulation.

Unlike the US, the laws apply nationally and are not a case of rebellious states vs. the Feds. And you won’t see high stakes games being played out between the Feds and states as you are seeing between Jeff Sessions and the US states today.

Now, Canada is in the process of legalizing recreational use too.

While full legalization is likely in the next 18 months, here we will discuss the laws as they are today.

[Read more about the process of legalization in Part 1 of this week’s series. We’ve also taken a look at potential investment opportunities in this huge new legal market, which you can find on our sister site Big Buds Guide.]

Canada’s medical marijuana laws

In 1999 the Canadian government made a ‘Section 56 exemption’ of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for medical marijuana use for certain medical conditions.

marijuana - medical use only logo

This would open the doors to further government regulation and the situation Canadians face today, with a fully regulated legal cannabis market likely in the next year or so.

In 2000 there was a court challenge to the exemption, with the courts finding that anyone for whom the best treatment was medical marijuana had the legal right to access it. New government regulations were put in place to formalize the situation, and the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) were put in place. Any doctor could prescribe cannabis under the new regulations.

In 2013 the Canadian government put a legal framework in place for a marijuana growing industry to develop called the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR).

The theory was that if regulated then marijuana growers would produce high quality cannabis products and people would be able to get exactly what they needed. Unregulated, cannabis growing was similar to illegal grows in the rest of the world—cannabis users would have a hit and miss game in getting the right cannabinoid makeup of a particular preparation.

Dried and other products

cannabis buds

The MMAR regulations meant that medical users could only access dried buds.

However, of course, cannabis can be consumed in a variety of different ways:

  • Raw, fresh cannabis buds for example can provide many of the medical benefits of cannabis without giving people a buzz and getting them stoned.
  • Cannabis oil is a discreet, concentrated product that people can vaporize to help their symptoms, yet not broadcast their use of the stuff when having a quick blast.
  • Edibles are another effective means of consumption.

These are just three methods of consumption that were effectively still banned under both the MMAR and MMPR regulations.

In 2015 the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that this should not be the case. Health Canada’s website states:

“In June 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada, in R. v. Smith, decided that restricting legal access to only dried marijuana was unconstitutional. The Court decided that individuals with a medical need have the right to use and make other cannabis products. To eliminate uncertainty around a legal source of supply of cannabis, the Minister of Health issued section 56 class exemptions under the CDSA in July 2015, to allow, among other things, licensed producers to produce and sell cannabis oil and fresh marijuana buds and leaves in addition to dried marijuana, and to allow authorized users to possess and alter different forms of cannabis.”

A February 2016 ruling stated:

“[R]equiring individuals to get their marijuana only from licensed producers violated liberty and security rights protected by section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court found that individuals who require marijuana for medical purposes did not have “reasonable access”.”

Medical cannabis users could grow their own under license from the government, and the industry could produce almost any product with a recognized health benefit.

Home grows

The Supreme Court rulings led to the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

These regulations are the current cannabis laws in Canada, and are a foretaste of the bureaucracy that will come with full legalization.

The ACMPR may well have boosted the home grow industry as they are the first regulations formally permitting home grows in Canada.

However, the Plants Not Pills website points out:

“Patients will be unable to have their strains tested which means that the exact amounts of THC/CBD will not be determinable. Licensed Producers are required to test their products for not only the THC/CBD content, but also contaminants. This may lead to a strain being much weaker than anticipated and/or full of contaminants.”

Medical marijuana users, arguably, have a better chance of getting exactly the right weed they need by buying through a dispensary from a licensed cannabis producer, as they will know exactly what they are getting, whereas they will not be able to test their home grows. Home growers can at least control what nutrients go into their grows though.

The industry as a whole

What the legal and regulatory framework means is that there is already a vibrant marijuana industry in Canada.

And at present at least, it makes more sense for those with a medical marijuana prescription to buy their cannabis products from a dispensary.

This makes cannabis producers in Canada a high-quality investment opportunity.