Since cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, some government departments are struggling to keep up with all the applications. Interestingly, the bulk of the requests are not for dispensary licenses but for research.
As of the end of July 2019, the government of Canada had more than 250 applications pending for cannabis research licenses, and that number is growing all the time. At the end of that line are many aggravated scientists and researchers who want to better understand the biology and medicinal properties of the cannabis plant.
It’s no wonder, after so many years of prohibition, that people want to study cannabis thoroughly to see just how beneficial (or not) it is. Meanwhile, Health Canada, the government body charged with issuing the research licenses, are coming under fire from just about all directions. According to a recent Sciencemag report, the chief science officer for Aurora Cannabis in Canada, Jonothan Page, asked a great question.
“Everybody is growing, consuming, and buying it, but the labs are still: ‘How do we get these projects going?’” Unfortunately, according to Page, “The [licensing] system is swamped, and research is not exactly, I think, a priority.”
Despite that, Health Canada has said they are committed to issuing research permits, in spite of the delays. Until cannabis was legalized in Canada (only the second country in the world to do so after Uruguay) limited research on the plant was carried out under strict government-regulated conditions. Scientists and medical professionals in Canada are excited by the new laws which allow them to study cannabis substantially for the first time.
While cannabis is legal medically and recreationally in Canada, it is heavily regulated from “seed to shelf.” The Cannabis Act dictates a stringent system of controls and regulations for all aspects of cannabis, from cultivation to sale. There are those who have some sympathy for Health Canada in any event.
As Michael Dixon from the University of Guelph, who studies cannabis said to reporters, “I feel for Health Canada. They have been handed an almost impossible chore.” The agency has even employed 140 new staff members to try and help them handle the overburdening load of new applications.
For their part, Health Canada has been making weekly announcements, confirming how many research permits they have granted. Since October 2018, according to Health Canada, 113 research applications have been approved and “We expect the weekly number to grow in coming weeks,” one Health Canada spokesperson said. While it’s clear that the Canadian government are doing what they can to pave the way for the smooth implementation of legal cannabis, there are also some hurdles to overcome.
Due to prohibition, even studying the smallest amount of cannabis under lab conditions was illegal for many decades. This type of thinking understandably pervaded the psyche of many people, not least scientists who never even consumed cannabis in their lives. It’s no surprise that even with legalization, many lab facilities and the people working in them refuse to handle cannabis just in case.
To think that a researcher could be arrested and sent to jail for studying the plant in a lab just a few years ago almost beggars belief. With all that said, many hope it won’t be long now for the new systems to be put in place successfully. When that happens, there’s little doubt we will all benefit from a more in-depth and well-rounded understanding of this wondrous plant.