Canada has imported a relatively small amount of cannabis since late 2018, and none for sale commercially, according to data provided to Marijuana Business Daily by the country’s federal health department.
The data offers additional ammunition to critics who charge Canada has in effect imposed a ban on commercial imports of medical cannabis.
Roughly 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of dried cannabis were brought into Canada between October 2018 and Aug. 14, 2020, according to the previously unpublished Health Canada data.
The country also saw 200.35 milliliters (6.8 ounces) of cannabis oil enter the country legally, the federal health department said. A monthly breakdown is not yet available.
The quantities authorized were for scientific purposes only, a Health Canada spokeswoman confirmed, meaning none of the product was destined for sale to Canadian patients.
The trickle of noncommercial imports comes as commercial exports continue to soar.
MJBizDaily exclusively reported that exports of medical cannabis for scientific and medical use have risen dramatically in recent years.
About 5,372 liters (1,419 gallons) of Canadian-produced cannabis oil products were approved for export to at least 17 countries in 2019. A year earlier, 919 liters were approved for export.
Dried cannabis exports for medical and scientific use more than doubled to 3,740 kilograms last year.
That has rankled some countries, which say the Canadian government is insulating domestic medical cannabis producers against foreign competition by not allowing imports for medical use.
A Jamaican official previously told MJBizDaily the country will make an appeal to the Canadian government “for this unfortunate position to be reviewed.”
International medical cannabis businesses also object to Canada’s position.
The CEO of a multinational cannabis company said appropriately licensed companies should not be prevented from participating in Canada’s medical marijuana industry – provided they’re working with an appropriately licensed Canadian company on the import side.
“If there is product that passes internationally recognized standards, is cheaper for the patient and consumer, then import should certainly be looked at seriously. We need competition to deliver savings to patients,” the CEO said, requesting anonymity.
But blocking imports of medical cannabis also has repercussions for Canada’s largest producers, who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years building out cultivation facilities overseas.
The de facto ban on imports prevents those Canadian companies from monetizing those facilities via shipping to Canada – in effect removing the largest base of consumers from their equation.
That matters because there are very few functional, meaningful, federally regulated medical marijuana markets – and Canada happens to be the largest among them.
A lawyer specializing in international trade said Canada is probably in the wrong when it comes to international law, but the likelihood of legal action in the near term remains low.
“It’s a no-brainier from a trade law point of view that what Canada is doing violates our international agreements,” said Mark Warner, a lawyer in Toronto specializing in international competition, trade and investment law.
“Canada is begging for a lawsuit. The issue is, who would bring that case?” he said in a phone interview.
“The Europeans, I can’t see doing it right away,” he continued. “Jamaica is a smaller country and doesn’t really use the (World Trade Organization) system that way.
“Colombia is just getting off the ground. That could be a country that does it, but it’s hard to see. Israel hasn’t been an offensive user of the WTO system.”
Warner said a more likely first step – at least from a European Union point of view – could be the EU requesting consultations with their Canadian counterparts to agree to a framework for cooperation on this issue under the Canada-EU trade agreement.
“It has the advantage of not starting with conflict,” he said.
Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected].