For many Canadians, Oct. 17—the date recreational sales and use of marijuana was legalized—was a day to rejoice. “Canada will look back with pride,” said Hillary Black, one of the country’s leading cannabis activists, in an interview with The New York Times. “Oct. 17 is a unique moment in Canada’s history.”
But medical users worry the sharp increase in demand will impact their supply. Some Canadians who use cannabis for health-related reasons have already noticed shortages. Legal in Canada since 2001, medical marijuana is prescribed to patients undergoing chemotherapy or to individuals with HIV/AIDS, seizures, anxiety and other illnesses.
“Access to medical cannabis has become a bit of a health crisis,” said James O’Hara of the advocacy group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana in an interview with CBC. He noted that Canadians with cannabis prescriptions have been emailing his organization, “upset by out-of-stock signs at their regular provider’s website or retail location.”
Allan Rewak, the director of the Cannabis Council of Canada, which represents 85 per cent of the country’s cultivators and medicinal suppliers, says the opposite is true: “If anything, we’re seeing adult consumer-use cannabis being repackaged and reallocated to ensure medicinal demand is met first.”
Toronto’s Len Wong, a 16-year industry veteran in the area of genetics research and the development of medical marijuana, suspects it’s a supply issue—that production needs to ramp up to ensure adequate supply for both sets of consumers.
Len Wong is the master grower and founder of Genetix Consulting, a cannabis consulting firm in Toronto. But it’s his role as the owner of The Grow Depot that helps Wong understand the supply side of the marijuana business: “I try to be up-to-date with the latest growing technologies that are out there. The process involves a lot of contacting suppliers, manufacturers and sourcing materials.
“We develop products based on need,” said Toronto’s Len Wong, “so if I see a need for a product, then I’ll bring that to life.”
According to Wong, medical marijuana producers who are branching out to serve recreational users have the advantage of experience. “We have call centers, customer service, and scientific knowledge. A new company serving the recreational market may take years to build up similar expertise.”
As the second nation to legalize weed for recreational use, Canada is leading the way for other countries, said Wong. “The world is watching how we transition and balance both sectors—and how we’ll meet the demand.”
Marc Wayne, president of Bedrocan Canada in Toronto, said his company is sticking with the medical side. But he acknowledges that legalization benefits all users: “Over the past decade, there has been a shift toward greater acceptance of marijuana and this will only take it to the next level.”
“The epicenter of public policy is here, and everybody’s coming to Canada to see how we do it,” agrees Bruce Linton who heads up Canopy, the first Canadian marijuana grower to debut on the New York Stock Exchange.
In an interview with The New York Times, Linton added, “Having home field for the first time ever in anything — this is amazing.”