Oh, Canada

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The Beginning of Global Marijuana

January 27, 2016

Canada — home to one of the world’s greatest rock bands (Rush); hockey hair and hockey fanatics falling from the trees; beautiful, behemoth waterfalls (Niagara); and coffee chain Tim Horton’s — may now possibly become known as the starting point of the new global cannabis economy.

Why Canada? Well, for starters, Canada became the first country (in 2001) to adopt a formal system to legalize and regulate medical marijuana — “Marijuana Medical Access Regulations” (replaced in 2013 by the “Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations”). Our northern neighbor now allows mass production of medicinal cannabis distributed through a combination of the local doctor and the Canadian Mail System. It also is ground zero for the development of a possibly universally accepted, sustainable business model that might just end up working for everyone. And, it is in the research and development phase, so to speak, of establishing a fully functional recreational marijuana model.

Two people are key to this story: 23-year-old University of Waterloo student Jonathan Zaid, and the grandmaster of Canada himself, the newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Who is Jonathan Zaid? And why are these two people the new superheroes of the global cannabis movement?

Jonathan Zaid succeeded in getting his medicinal marijuana covered by Canadian Insurance (Sun Life Financial, to be exact). Yes, you read that right.

Years ago, Zaid was diagnosed with a rare condition called New Daily Persistent Headache. This condition causes 24/7, treatment-resistant, daily headaches, which leave Zaid nearly immobile. After several years and 48 different types of medications, Zaid happened upon the only thing that worked: medicinal cannabis.

Unfortunately, the cost of his needed dosage was beyond what he could afford. Unacceptable to Zaid, he decided to do something about it. He sent a claim to his insurer (Sun Life) to get his cannabis covered; of course, it was denied.

This did not stop him. He started negotiations with the governing body for his student health benefits, the University of Waterloo Student Union. After many presentations, the Student Union sponsored Zaid’s request and, shortly thereafter, quite unbelievably, Sun Life Financial, the primary backer of Zaid’s Student Benefits package, reimbursed Zaid with a check for $3,000 to cover his cannabis purchases and his $750 vaporizer.

That was December 2014. Flash forward to today: Jonathan Zaid is now the founder and director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), which advocates for patients’ rights across Canada and works with insurers to develop a plan for insurance coverage for Canadian Medical Marijuana Patients. In May 2015, Zaid worked with the Ontario Ministry of Health to exempt cannabis from the recently passed Making Healthier Choices Act, which, among other things, regulates flavored tobacco. As a result, in late 2016, Ontario allowed patients to consume their cannabis medicine publicly; however, the next day, the decision came under review.

This brings us to Canada’s new Prime Minister. Trudeau largely campaigned on the legalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational use, and now he has mandated Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, along with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, as the new team to implement the recreational-cannabis legalization process across Canada.

Canada’s Medical-Marijuana Evolution

What does this all mean? Well, let’s take a deeper dive by reviewing Canada’s existing model for medicinal cannabis.

Since April 2014, Canada has implemented a distribution model for citizens wanting to medicate with cannabis, and it goes a little something like this:

Johnny and Suzy have chronic arthritis pain, which no pills remedy. They are introduced to medicinal cannabis; it works. Johnny and Suzy go to their local doctor and get a medical marijuana prescription. They register with one of the 26 currently licensed producers in Canada and order Canada’s finest indica (or sativa, or blend) cannabis flower, which is delivered to their door by Canadian Post within five to seven days.

Sounds pretty simple, huh? Think again. Doctors were not happy that they were left with the sole decision to prescribe medical marijuana. As such, they could perceivably risk their licenses or face lawsuits due to a lack of standardization for purity and potency, and a lack of sufficient evidence on the benefits and risks. They have been, therefore, extremely reluctant to dole out scripts to the average patient.

On a positive note, medicinal cannabis is now legal on a federal level. This means producers have access to banks, can accept credit cards, can obtain liability insurance etc., and the cannabis goes through rigorous testing standards to ensure its purity and safety for consumers.

A Model for Global Adoption

And now, let’s get back to the point. Zaid and Trudeau have succeeded in opening the door wider to a truly sustainable cannabis industry model that can and will work — and can be adopted globally.

My predictions for the future are:

  • Medical marijuana covered by insurance? Yes. Eventually. However, cannabis needs to go through the same rigorous Health Canada approval process as any other new drug — similar to the U.S.'s FDA new-drug approval process. Once this happens, Health Canada will issue cannabis a D.I.N. (Drug Identification Number), which will make potential insurers more comfortable with covering cannabis.
  • Marijuana legalized recreationally? Trudeau’s team is working on that. ETA? About two years till full implementation, I reckon.
  • Cannabis sold in cannabis boutiques (dispensaries)? Yes. This is currently successful in British Columbia.
  • Edible marijuana? I hope so. It has just become legal for licensed producers to make oil.
  • Ability for the everyman to grow cannabis? Yes, but in limited amounts (or get properly licensed for commercial distribution).
  • A sustainable model for cannabis production and distribution that Canada (and possibly the world) can live with? Yes. I foresee local farmers supplying local dispensaries, allowing more potential wealth distribution to local communities through employment and taxes, and licensed producers supplying dispensaries and customers across Canada, all subject to stringent quality-control standards, ensuring the safety of its citizens.
  • Driving under the influence? Questions, questions, questions. How do we determine the thresholds necessary to enforce this? Marijuana stays in your system for over a month. Some breathalyzers claiming to be able to discern active THC vs. levels present from previous or chronic use are said to be hitting the market. Only time will tell.

Will the rest of the world adopt Canada’s final iteration of a federally sustainable cannabis industry model that is a win-win for all? Ultimately the consumer shall dictate whether the market and its players will thrive and, of course, who will come out on top. But for now, we wait.

About the Author: Scott Lowry resides in Oakland, Mich., with his wife, five children and their dog, Nora. He is a licensed medical grower and caregiver, and has focused on organic cannabis cultivation for the last 8 years. He also is founder and COO of a large-scale Canadian cannabis production company out of Tecumseh, Ontario, called Global Organiks, which is currently in the application process for becoming a Licensed Producer under Canada's Medical Marijuana Program. In addition, Lowry is the founder and CEO of GO Engineering, an agribusiness technology engineering company, which creates products for the indoor cannabis cultivation industry. It is safe to say he has a healthy obsession for science, business and all things agriculture.