Health Canada completes 75% of promised ‘high-level reviews’ of cannabis applications

Health Canada cannabis regulator

Since overhauling the federal cannabis license application process in May, Health Canada completed about three-quarters of the eligible high-level reviews in the licensing queue as of the end of June.

But some industry sources say the regulatory agency is not moving fast enough.

As of May 8, Health Canada started requiring new cannabis cultivation applicants to have a fully built site at the time of their application.

Existing applicants – those who had not received a confirmation-of-readiness letter – were to be put through a high-level review.

Health Canada aimed to complete those reviews by the end of June, the regulator said at the time.

Recent data shows the regulator is making significant progress.

By the end of June, 450 high-level reviews were complete. Health Canada said 580 applications were eligible for the review when the changes were made in May.

A completed high-level review means those applicants received a status update letter indicating Health Canada had no concerns with what was proposed in the applications.

Once applicants have completed sites that meet the regulatory requirements – and site readiness packages have been submitted – the health department will review applications in detail, “in priority based on the original application date,” a spokesperson said.

Industry concerns

Some industry sources say the regulator is falling behind.

“Although they have great intentions, it’s clear that Health Canada does not have the bandwidth to perform the site audits, to keep every single cannabis producer in line, and review new licensing applications that are still pouring in – at least not yet,” said Lucas McCann, chief scientific officer at Toronto-based regulatory consulting firm CannDelta.

Health Canada said it hopes the application overhaul will slash the time it takes to get a cultivation license.

“Part of this change to the process was Health Canada promising to submit a high-level review to all of the current applicants at the time of the announcement in May, yet only about two-thirds of our clients have received this high-level application review,” McCann said.

“This is a litmus test, which has led to significant doubt that Health Canada will be able to meet its new, self-imposed licensing timelines.

“My guess is that they won’t come close until early 2020.”

Health Canada has its hands full.

In the past two years, 135 new sites were licensed to produce cannabis, which is triple the number licensed in the previous four years, according to the regulator.

As of June 1, Health Canada approved more than 280 expansion amendments, allowing those license holders to expand production capacity at existing sites.

More new data

  • Health Canada said it has 63 evidence packages in the Cannabis Tracking and Licensing System (CTLS) from applicants with fully built sites.
  • Fifty-nine have been successfully screened and are under active review.
  • As of June 28, 186 sites had a license to cultivate, produce and/or sell cannabis.
  • As of July 5, Health Canada said it had received 807 applications in the CTLS for sites seeking cannabis cultivation, processing or sale. Before May 8, almost 120 of them received a confirmation of readiness letter.
Matt Lamers can be reached at