Health Canada began accepting applications from patients with approval from a physician last August in response to a court ruling in February 2016, but the process has quickly created a backlog with what some are saying is a greater interest in the program than was expected.
Although applications in the first few months were approved relatively quickly, now many patients are reporting waiting several months to get their paperwork approved so they can purchase starting material and begin growing. Because medical paperwork is only valid for up to one year, this means many patients may end up only having a few months of growing time before they have to reapply.
At the time of announcing the new program, Health Canada emphasized that this was largely a stop-gap response to the Allard court ruling, and future regulatory changes would be coming (including likely pharmacy distribution).
André Gagnon, Media Relations Officer for Health Canada, told Lift in an update earlier this year that as of February 9th of this year, there are 2,554 individuals with an active Health Canada registration to produce cannabis for their own medical purposes or to designate someone to produce it for them.
At the time, Gagnon said the wait times were due to “a number of factors including the completeness of the information submitted, the need to verify certain information contained in the application, or the volume of applications received. Lift has reached out to Health Canada for more updates on the subject and expects updates soon.
Physicians who specialize in medical cannabis say they are seeing a lot of patients coming through their doors who are interested in growing cannabis—up to one quarter of all those seeking access, in some cases.
“The wait times are, I would say, ludicrous at this point,” says Angelo Muscari, a Nurse's Aide and Physician's Assistant at National Access Cannabis, a chain of medical cannabis access clinics that connect patients with physicians with experience with medical cannabis. “I understand Health Canada are doing their best, but I don’t think they were expecting this many people to want grow their own medication.”
Muscari says about one in four of those coming through their doors want to grow their own. Not all the physicians under their roof are comfortable signing for it, but they have no policy against it and have physicians who are signing the paperwork. Muscari says NAC also offers courses on home growing, which are quite popular.
One physician who runs a medical cannabis clinic in Toronto, Dr Danial Schechter of the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic, says he’s seeing patients waiting several months for approval at this point. With prescriptions from his clinic limited to less than a year, this means some may end up having to renew their paperwork before it’s even approved.
“It seems like it’s somewhere between two and four months, at the moment,” says Schechter. “It seems like Health Canada has hired a few more people to process it. I got a call from someone (recently) at the Office of Medical Cannabis saying ‘we’re just processing this application, but it’s expired. Can you send us a new one?’”
Schecter says the paperwork had been signed in October but hadn’t been sent in by the patient until around the first of the year. He had signed the paperwork for six months and by the time Health Canada got to it, it was expired. Schecter says he’s now extending the paperwork to eight months to help address this.
Wow, just received a call from the office of medical cannabis trying to expedite an application for home growing under #ACMPR
— Danial Schecter (@DrDanial) May 1, 2017
Still, despite the long wait time, the physician says he’s impressed they actually called him and asked for a new document, rather than just cancelling it and sending it back to the patient to start the process all over again.
“I’m actually shocked and delighted that they called me and said they still want to process this and just send them a new medical document.”
Darryl K, a patient in Alberta, says he has already had to sign up twice for authorization to grow his own medical cannabis. Initially, he had his paperwork authorized by a physician and sent in to Health Canada by the end of August, and received the approved paperwork back by Nov 14th, a turnaround of 2 and a half months. However, explains Daryl, because his paperwork was only valid for three months, he had to re-submit his paperwork, and this is where the long wait began.
“At the time the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons limited my doctor to 3 month prescriptions, explains Darryl. “I sent my original paperwork on August 31 via Expresspost with a signature, received by HC on Sept 6, 2016. I received that ACMPR personal grow licence on November 14, 2016. It expired on November 30, 2016. [Then] I saw my Doctor who switched to NHS (National Health Services, another clinic) in Edmonton and was now able to prescribe me 1 year medical documents.”
“That renewal paperwork was submitted via Expresspost on November 21, 2016 and signed by HC on December 5, 2016. I got my renewal on April 10, 2017.”
“I phoned Health Canada every 2 weeks waiting approx 15-45 mins per time to speak with someone before being told my application is being worked on. I began growing after my first licence arrived and continued it until my renewal arrived, harvesting before it ever came in.
“I have grown cannabis in the past. The wait process is terrible, I have to apply again at the end of the month in hopes I get my renewal before it expires again in November. I feel terrible about this program and I know the courts would protect me as a medical patient if I were to ever have police come knocking.
Craig, another cannabis patient who asked to only be identified by his first name, says he’s glad the program exists, but is also frustrated by how long it took to get authorization, after sending in his paperwork last November and has still not received final approval.
“It is an exceptionally long wait,” says Craig. “My medical document I sent is for one year and covers from November 2016 to November of 2017. I fear before the whole legal application is received back, half or more of that period would have been spent waiting to get legal and not growing medicine for myself. There needs to be a swifter system if they expect growers to want to get legally licenced and to help patients access medicine.”
“I feel the program has enormous potential,” he continues. “I have some friends who applied early on and received their approval quite quickly last year and have been growing exceptional cannabis in their homes for themselves. With additional support from the federal government to staff Health Canada accordingly, this program will be groundbreaking.”