Medical cannabis registrations surge in Canada amid pandemic

The number of active medical cannabis registrations in Canada grew at the fastest pace in nearly three years during the latest quarter, defying predictions that the medical sector would fizzle after adult-use prohibition came to an end.

Canada added 73,803 active client registrations with a federal license holder for the quarter covering July, August and September, according to new data from the federal department responsible for regulating the industry.

That’s 25% more than the previous quarter.

The previous time active registrations grew at that pace was in the first half of 2017 – more than a year before Canada legalized marijuana for recreational use.

However, household expenditures on medical cannabis products in the same quarter fell slightly to 146 million Canadian dollars ($113 million), according to new Statistics Canada data.

The data shows Canada remains by far the largest federally regulated market for medical cannabis in the world, with more than CA$600 million in medical cannabis expenditures over the past four quarters.

Global markets are developing largely as expected – very slowly. But that’s not fast enough for Canadian producers such as Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth, which placed big bets on brisk overseas growth only to significantly reel in their global ambitions this year absent those revenues.

The Canadian market, by comparison, is faring much better.

The medical market has grown in every province – with the exception of Alberta – since Canada legalized adult-use cannabis.

As of the end of September 2020, Ontario had 26% more active registrations compared to October 2018, when the adult-use market launched.

Alberta, on the other hand, had 43% fewer active registrations over the same period.

A recent survey by Medical Cannabis Canada found systemic barriers were making Canada’s legal medical cannabis program prohibitive.

That means the market still has room to expand if those access pathways are ironed out. Among other things, 57% of survey respondents struggle to find a health-care practitioner to speak with about getting the medical document needed to purchase medical cannabis.

In a separate positive development for the market, Canada’s largest private-sector union (Unifor) said Dec. 18 it would partner with licensed producer Aleafia Health to provide medical cannabis coverage for its members as part of their benefit and insurance coverage.

“This is a landmark agreement, with a union and a medical cannabis company coming together to provide dedicated support through medical marijuana clinics across the country while challenging the stigmas associated with cannabis,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in a statement about the partnership.

Rob McPherson, who has provided extensive consulting to cannabis businesses in Canada, said various factors could help the overall medical segment, including:

  • Proprietary formats being rolled out.
  • Successful clinical trials.
  • Broader insurance coverage.
  • In-person access via pharmacies.
  • Businesses specializing in medical-only cannabis, rather than trying to dabble in every segment.

“Business choosing to specialize is a cornerstone of good business,” he said in a phone interview.

“Once recreational use became legalized, companies had a choice to make: Which business can I win in? They’re (medical versus recreational) different businesses, and they’re going to get more different.”

Shoppers Drug Mart, the largest pharmacy chain in the country, has called on the government to allow in-pharmacy medical marijuana sales.

“Shoppers didn’t set up a medical business only for online. Since they lost tobacco, they’re searching to find new revenue sources.”

Matt Lamers can be reached at