Medical marijuana isn’t going away any time soon. Twenty U.S. states have medical marijuana programs (and two of those have also legalized the drug for recreational use) and the system in Canada is about to be ramped up in terms of production and hopefully, quality. The Canadian government legalized medical use of the drug in 2001, and there are more than 37,000 approved users in the country. The system to date has been one of small-scale producers and home growers, but the new move aims to push the market into a more commercial area, trying to standardize the quality of the strains produced and ultimately drive the price down for users. The move also aims to solve some of the issues that have arisen regarding medical marijuana being illegally diverted to the black market.
Medical Marijuana and Its Uses
There are many medical uses of marijuana, and depending on the results of future research, it may be used for more conditions in the future. Marijuana is beneficial for things like increased pressure around the eyes (a common symptom of glaucoma), pain relief (particularly from nerve damage), nausea, improving appetite (especially for patients suffering from HIV or AIDS) and some movement disorders. Existing treatments for these conditions are also effective, but the use of marijuana carries a reduced overdose risk and a smaller chance of dependence. For example, if a patient is suffering from pain from nerve damage, a choice between opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and marijuana is an easy one, provided that both will be similarly effective. Prescription painkillers, as a comparison, are both addictive and fatal in cases of overdose.
Canada’s Move to Standardize
Canada’s decision comes alongside a prediction that over 10 times as many patients will be using medical marijuana by 2024. Under the old system, there was a cottage industry of small-scale growers, which, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were often mere fronts for criminal organizations. For the patients, the large number of growers meant varying levels of quality in the product, and for law enforcement officials it led to a great deal of marijuana originally produced for medical use being sold on the black market. Based on the projected numbers of users by 2024, the new industry will be worth $1.3 billion by that time. The new system will revolve around large-scale indoor farms, all of which must receive approval from health inspectors and law enforcement, as well as having robust security systems and vaults. One of the key focuses of the move is to maintain reliable quality standards, so patients can rely on consistent batches from week to week. In addition, although the price is expected to increase initially (from around $5 to $7.60 per gram), it’s assumed that later competition between growers will make things cheaper for end users. Health Canada will no longer be selling marijuana, but the low prices offered were previously subsidized by taxpayer money, so there is an advantage for ordinary citizens, too. In addition, growers claim that the new regulations will allow them to research and customize strains for the maximum benefit for specific conditions. The two primary ingredients of marijuana—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)—have differing effects and changing the quantities present in a particular strain maximizes the therapeutic potential for specific conditions. There are downsides to the move, however, particularly from the perspective of some patients. Under the previous rules, more than 25,000 Canadians had a license to grow their own medical marijuana, but this will no longer be allowed under the new system. Quality will improve, but it’s understandably more expensive and less convenient for the patients to have to buy medicine they could easily produce for themselves.
As Colorado and Washington have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, there has been speculation that Canada may be considering a similar move. While liberals have indicated they support legalization of the drug, the current conservative government does not support this move. However, they are considering decriminalization in the form of a “ticketing” system proposed by police officials to reduce the costs associated with policing marijuana possession. The liberals argue that taxing legalized recreational sales of marijuana could generate a lot of additional revenue for the country.