International Cannabis Business Conference

Oh Canada: Marketing Medical Marijuana

The new MMPR takes growing out of the hands of patients.

Canada’s Harper government - notoriously anti-cannabis - officially launched its new medical marijuana regulations on Oct. 1, and the main spin in the major media has been that a “free market” for medical marijuana has been created.

"We’re fairly confident that we’ll have a healthy commercial industry in time,” Sophie Galarneau, a senior official with Health Canada, said in an interview. "It's a whole other ballgame. We expect that, over time, prices will be driven down by the free market."

A “free market” connotes a "market economy based on supply and demand with little or no government control." It contrasts with a regulated market, in which government policy intervenes in the setting of prices.”

According to all sources, the new regulations (MMPR) will take the existing system - a regulated-but-open-to-most system - and add more unnecessary regulations in the form of expensive accounting and security requirements, while at the same time shutting down all personal and designated small-time grow operations. It's ideal for the supplier who doesn’t want to have to compete with independent gardeners, but a crushing blow to those who can only afford their medicine if they or a friend supplies it.

Any benefit from the very limited “competition” created by expanding the licensed distributors from one to a handful will be more than eliminated by the massive extra costs of the new security and accounting requirements, estimated by the Department of Health to be in the hundreds of thousands - if not millions – of dollars.

It appears that only Time and Cannabis Culture refrained from calling it a “free market." As Cannabis Culture pointed out, the government’s first two licenses under the new regulations were handed to Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), the government’s official source of medical marijuana in the previous regulatory system. PPS cannabis was notorious for being the worst pot in the world - heavy in metals and microbes, low in THC and then exposed to medicine-destroying radiation to deal with the microbe problem. PPS pot was so bad each batch got sent out with it’s own return form – possibly the only medicine in the world to be sold that way. The kicker was that if you opened the package to discover just how bad the cannabis was you weren’t allowed a refund!

I'm not surprised that the Harper government hails this “free market” as it destroys small growers and creates a monopoly. If, by "free market," the Harper government means “shut down and/or arrest all the ma and pa operations to allow millionaires to not have to deal with any competition," then yes it's a "free market." In reality it’s an attempt at the destruction of one of the last free markets in Western society - the pot economy. The problems they cite as the reason to shut down personal and designated growers - shitty basement grow operations with sketchy wiring and sloppy mould problems; break-and-enter rip-offs; lack of access to affordable, quality medicine for all Canadians - can only be solved through total legalization allowing everyone to grow and deal (moving their gardens into greenhouses). Problems will continue and expand under the new system as many people will be forced back to black-market growing because they can't afford to pay the inflated monopoly prices, as much as four times the current rate (from $2 a gram to $8 a gram).

The real inflation is when it's compared to the former "grow your own" price, not the other government program price. I would estimate home grows could range from five cents per gram to one dollar per gram.

A group of med-pot growers is fighting back. Calling themselves MMAR DPL/PPL Coalition Against Repeal, the Medical Marijuana Access Regulation Designated Production License and Personal Production License holders are banding together in a class action lawsuit designed to prevent the destruction of the smaller growers and self-sufficient medical users. The coalition has over 3,400 members across Canada, and is headed by Queen’s Council lawyer John Conroy, the same attorney who helped bring about the recent win for Vancouver’s supervised hard-drug injection site at the Supreme Court of Canada.

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David Malmo-Levine

David Malmo-Levine

Also writes for cannabisculture.com and operates The Herb Museum in Vancouver, BC.