Canada classifies medical cannabis ‘essential’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

Canada’s federal government has deemed medical cannabis production “essential” to the country’s critical health-care infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The designation is intended to assist provinces, municipalities and businesses in their decisionmaking around the types of employees considered essential for the health, safety, security and economic well-being of the country.

Even though the designation is nonbinding and advisory in nature, it is important because all cannabis production, including medical marijuana, is regulated by the federal government.

The guidance on essential services and functions can be found here.

“The manufacturer, logistics and warehouse operations, and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes have been identified as essential services,” according to an email, obtained by Marijuana Business Daily, that was sent to multiple stakeholder groups by the acting director of the Office of Medical Access and Specialized Authorizations.

“Health Canada has been, and will continue to be, in contact with companies holding a medical sales license to understand any challenges they are experiencing,” according to the email, which was sent April 2.

“Based on the information we have received to date, license holders remain open, are continuing to produce cannabis and are processing requests.”

Canada had 370,000 active medical cannabis registrations as of September 2019, plus another 30,000 personal or designated production registrations, making it the largest federally regulated scheme in the world.

Most Canadian provinces have allowed cannabis businesses and their supply chains to remain operational amid stricter physical-distancing measures undertaken to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Patient group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) had joined others, including the Cannabis Council of Canada, in lobbying the federal government to classify medical cannabis as an essential service. A House of Commons petition drew roughly 2,600 signatures.

Cannabis Council of Canada CEO George Smitherman said the move is an acknowledgment of the essential nature medical cannabis plays in the country’s health-care system.

“During this period, it is essential that the delivery of cannabis directly to the patient remain,” Smitherman said, otherwise patients will turn to nonregulated sources with untested products.

Smitherman said the industry remains a startup sector and new businesses are vulnerable to the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

“We continue to impress upon the government that the cannabis sector should have equal access as others to government-backed services like those from (the Business Development Bank of Canada),” he said.

CFAMM Vice President Max Monahan-Ellison said, “We are thrilled to see the government take this step to ensure patient access to medical cannabis is maintained and are grateful to have had support from the Arthritis Society, Wounded Warriors Canada, the Canadian AIDS Society, NORML Canada, SheCann, the Canadian Cannabis Council and more from the nonprofit and corporate side to push this forward.

“Now we will be turning our focus to address the heightened affordability challenges facing patients at this time.”

Public Safety Canada, which compiled the nonexhaustive list of essential services and functions, said it will continually consult on and amend the list as warranted.

Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at

For more of Marijuana Business Daily’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the cannabis industry, click here.