The Not-So-Free Market in Medical Marijuana

In 2013, Health Canada announced a change that it said would allow a “free market” in medical marijuana to flourish: It transferred responsibility for production from small growers to large commercial operations — and when the change came into effect in April, investors flocked to the new start-ups. (Some jokingly referred to a “dot-bong bubble.”) But while numerous companies are now competing in the industry, it had become clear the new market is anything but free.

As the Financial Post reported on Saturday, Bedrocan Cannabis Corp. — whose parent company has years of experience producing medical marijuana for the Dutch government — is set to open a 50,000-square-foot grow op in Toronto. It will join 14 other companies that are licensed to grow and distribute, and eight licensed only to grow.

These 23 firms were the lucky ones: Health Canada initially received over 1,000 applications for medical marijuana licenses, but chose to grant them only to a small percentage of them. And even the lucky 23 are finding it hard to distinguish themselves from the competition, thanks to draconian restrictions that prevent them from doing any direct marketing of their products.

In November, Health Canada sent letters to 20 licensed producers informing them that some of the information on their websites and social media accounts was in violation of the advertising ban. This included pictures of the products, links to other websites that promote the products and information about what strains can best treat different diseases.

It is understandable that pharmaceutical companies would be prohibited from making false or misleading claims about their products. It is also true that medical marijuana companies have to abide by the same rules as many other drug manufacturers. But a medical cannabis prescription is different than one for, say, OxyContin or Tylenol 3: In the latter case, a doctor will know which drug is best for treating certain symptoms; medical marijuana patients, on the other hand, are given a general prescription and must discover for themselves which strains can best treat their disease.

The website for Quebec-based Hydropothecary Inc., for example, lists its products as “Good Morning,” “Midday,” “After Dinner” and “Bedtime.” This presumably tells patients which strains will give them energy and which will put them to sleep, but it does not tell them which will be better for treating glaucoma and which ones cancer patients should be taking to improve their appetite. It would be like walking into a pharmacy and not being told that Aspirin is for headaches and Reactine is for allergies.

– Read the entire article at National Post.