Canada: Medical Cannabis

The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) provide Canada's framework for individuals to purchase or produce small amounts of cannabis for their personal medical use. Under the ACMPR, a health care provider gives a patient a medical document. Based on the medical document, the individual can purchase cannabis from a federally licensed producer (LP). The ACMPR allow individuals registered with an LP to purchase dried or fresh "marihuana" (cannabis flowers) or cannabis oil. Alternatively, individuals can send their medical documents to Health Canada for authorization to grow a limited amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes, or designate someone to produce it for them.

Health Canada has stated that the ACMPR are not permanent regulations. Stakeholders should keep up to date with coming changes. Changes in medical cannabis regulations present new opportunities and challenges in health care, labour and employment, and capital markets. From a health care perspective, the ACMPR complement the Narcotic Control Regulations in setting out rules for the possession, sale, use and administration of medical cannabis in a healthcare facility. The ACMPR are permissive, not mandatory. It is up to each facility to determine whether, and if so within what parameters, it will permit the provision, sale or administration of medical cannabis to patients or residents who have an ACMPR medical document, prescription or a written order providing access to medical cannabis. Given increasing social acceptance of medical cannabis, more accessible products (e.g. cannabis oils and capsules) and the outcome of some Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenges, we may see a push towards greater acceptance of medical cannabis in the health care setting.

From an employment law perspective, employers have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities under human rights legislation. If an employee provides written communications from a physician or other evidence indicating that, in order to attend work, he or she must be permitted to smoke or ingest cannabis for medical purposes, an employer will have to consider this request. Whether the duty to accommodate requires an employer to permit an employee to consume medical cannabis at work or not, will depend on a number of factors, including the nature of the employee's work and the impact on productivity caused by the ingestion of cannabis. Employers also have a corresponding duty under provincial occupational health and safety legislation to maintain a safe workplace. Employees in safety-sensitive positions might not be entitled to smoke or ingest medical cannabis at work while or before performing their duties.

From a capital markets perspective, the ACMPR and the loosening legal framework surrounding medical cannabis is fueling fast growth in a relatively nascent market sector. As of the date of this publication, 37 licenses to produce medical cannabis have been issued under the ACMPR or its predecessor legislation, the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (Canada), and there are approximately 416 license applications awaiting review by Health Canada, with approximately 20 new applications being received every month. LPs are scrambling to grab their share of a burgeoning Canadian medical cannabis market, which is forecast to peak at $1.1 billion by 2020 (without full legalization for recreational use). With these sky-high opportunities, LPs are accessing the capital markets at a feverish pace to finance increased growing capacity and complete complementary acquisitions of other LPs or production facilities. Since the 2015 federal election in Canada, publicly-listed LPs have raised more than $563 million in equity. The Canadian market for cannabis could get even hotter if the federal Liberals make good on their election promise to fully legalize cannabis for recreational use, which is widely anticipated.

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