Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001; however, users had to either grow their own or buy it from Health Canada. All of that changed in March 2014. Now, patients with valid prescriptions from a licensed health-care provider must buy their marijuana from a licensed producer.
Licensed producers are expected to be large, commercial farms that grow standardized strains with known chemical composition. More than 1,000 businesses have applied to become licensed marijuana providers, but so far only 22 have received a license. No matter- these 22 have been busily marketing their products to Canadians. Company websites generally show pictures of healthy plants and beautiful growing conditions. They also offer useful information about which strains are best for treating various medical conditions and how to prepare oils and other extracts from the dried plants. Terry Booth, CEO of Aurora, one of the licensed farms, explains that they are only allowed to sell dried plants, but many users of medical marijuana need their medication in a different form.
Health Canada, however, objects to these websites. As of January 12, 2015, licensed retailers must remove all pictures of marijuana from their websites and from any social media websites they maintain. They must also restrict their text to basic information only- the name of the strains, the cannabinoid content of each strain, and the cost per gram. Companies cannot make any statements or claims about what conditions the various products can be used to treat. According to Dean Beeby at CBC News, companies can’t even link to other websites with this type of information.
The point of the crackdown is to prevent marijuana growers from making the plant appeal to consumers. Narcotics regulations in Canada forbid the promotion of drugs such as cannabis to the general public. Apparently pictures of buds and leaves make the marijuana look too inviting, and presenting information about conditions that can be treated by various strains is considered to be promoting the use of the drug to the public. Descriptions of how the various strains taste and how they are likely to affect users are also forbidden.
In light of the narcotics regulations, Health Canada’s position is understandable. However, it may leave patients in the lurch. A doctor may be aware that marijuana can help a patient and write a prescription, but few doctors are experts in the many different strains of medical marijuana and won’t be able to provide any advice on which strains are best for each patient. This information can be critical- a patient trying to relieve pain without impairing cognitive function won’t be pleased with a strain that has powerful anti-insomnia properties. Some experts have suggested that patients will need to visit special marijuana clinics after getting their prescription in order to receive advice about strain selection and preparation of their medication. This may not be very convenient for sick individuals who live in remote areas.
The licensed producers plan to comply with Health Canada’s decrees. They do express some frustration over the prior lack of clarity about advertising regulations. Most of the frustration from growers, though, is over the delays in licensing the many would-be producers who have applied.