In letter to cannabis producers, Health Canada pledges ‘limited inspections’ amid COVID-19 crisis

Canadian cannabis license holders received new guidance from Health Canada on Tuesday, detailing the federal health department’s approach to regulating the marijuana industry during the COVID-19 crisis.

Among other things, Health Canada said it will continue some licensing activity and license inspections at a modified pace, allow temporary security clearances for some staff and extend an upcoming deadline for regulatory reporting.

The letter from Health Canada to license holders, which was viewed by Marijuana Business Daily, offers advice and instructions to Canadian cannabis producers facing uncertainty as they navigate the pandemic. It’s guidance the nation’s cannabis companies have wanted.

The letter stresses that Health Canada is prioritizing critical services to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the same time, the Department is maintaining core program services to ensure regulated sectors, including the cannabis sector, can continue to operate with appropriate oversight and control,” the letter reads.

“We want to assure you that essential licensing services under the Cannabis Act and its regulations are being maintained, and that limited inspections will continue with a focus on activities that represent the highest risk to public health and safety.”

Canada currently has 337 federal license holders, almost half of which are located in Ontario.

Earlier this week, suspended cannabis producer CannTrust warned that Heath Canada’s limited service “could adversely affect the timing of the company’s remediation efforts.”

Key takeaways from Health Canada’s letter include:

  • Cannabis licensing services are being maintained and prioritized.

The agency will prioritize license amendments and security-clearance applications, a decision the regulator said was based on industry feedback.

License holders with applications for amendments or security clearances – or those with licensing needs that are “critical to support (their) operations during the pandemic response period” – are asked to email Health Canada.

  • A “small number of license renewal applications” are also being prioritized.

Health Canada plans to issue final decisions on those applications “in the coming days,” according to the letter.

The regulator is considering temporary extensions for cannabis licenses that could expire in the next three months.

  • Licensing inspections will continue, but some will be postponed.

Health Canada is prioritizing inspections related to “activities that represent the highest risk to public health and safety.”

Sales license inspections that require an on-site visit will be postponed, although Health Canada might consider conducting those inspections on a case-by-case basis. License holders with a scheduled on-site sales license inspection will be hearing from inspectors to reschedule.

  • Temporary security-cleared individuals are permitted.

Cannabis license holders who lack sufficient security-cleared individuals to operate as a result of COVID-19 can temporarily designate an alternate “based on their own internal risk assessment” and notify Health Canada.

Temporarily designated persons might not have had a security clearance refused, suspended or canceled in the past and might not “pose an unacceptable risk to public health and public safety,” including illegal diversion of cannabis.

Health Canada approval is still required to designate a “quality-assurance person,” although those applications will be prioritized.

  • Monthly cannabis tracking system (CTS) reports are still due.

CTS reports must still be submitted by the 15th of every month, although they can be updated and revised at a later date.

  • The deadline for annual promotions reports has been extended.

The deadline for 2019 annual promotions reports, which track expenditures on promotional activities, will be extended from March 31 to June 30, if necessary. License holders who are having trouble meeting the reporting obligation are asked to email Health Canada.

“We are working hard to ensure you have the information you need in as timely fashion as possible and are working to finalize answers to all your questions as quickly as possible,” Health Canada wrote in the letter.

Solomon Israel is a reporter for Marijuana Business Daily, based in Winnipeg. 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.