Access barriers stall Canadian medical cannabis market, survey shows

Systemic barriers are making Canada’s legal medical cannabis program prohibitive, causing patients to seek treatment in recreational and unregulated channels with no oversight from medical practitioners, a new survey says.

That situation could be partly to blame for Canada’s stalled medical cannabis sales, which have seen flat expenditures of around 150 million Canadian dollars ($113 million) per quarter since 2017, according to Statistics Canada data.

The survey, conducted by Medical Cannabis Canada (MCC), found that only 37% of Canadians using cannabis for medical purposes have a medical document – such as a prescription – from a health-care practitioner.

“This is concerning since patients without a medical document report substantially less engagement with health-care professionals and greater use of unregulated markets to access their treatment,” according to the group’s news release.

The survey also found that 57% struggle to find a practitioner to speak with about getting a medical document.

In the past year, the survey found that most patients used the recreational market to access their treatment, while 24% used an unregulated dispensary and one-third obtained cannabis via a friend, family, acquaintance or dealer.

The survey was conducted among two groups, including 1,000 medical patients and 1,785 people from the Medical Cannabis Canada network.

Canopy Growth’s medical division, Spectrum Therapeutics, provided a grant for the study.

“It is essential for Canadians to have access to support from health-care professionals to help them navigate medical cannabis safely and effectively,” MCC board member Max Monahan-Ellison said in the release.

“Unfortunately, there is little incentive to access a medical document or use the legal medical channel, and many are being left to manage their treatment alone.”

Monahan-Ellison – project lead for the survey – laid out key areas to be addressed, including:

  • Enabling pharmacy distribution of medical cannabis, in addition to existing mail delivery.
  • Eliminating various taxes applied to medical cannabis to improve affordability.
  • The expansion of benefits coverage.

“As the Cannabis Act comes up for review in 2021, collaborative efforts are needed by the industry, nonprofits and regulators to ensure patients can access their treatment and health-care professional support,” Monahan-Ellison said.

The report is available here.