Medical cannabis spending in Canada hits 5-year low in first half

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Canadian spending on medical cannabis fell to a five-year low in the first half of 2021, according to new data from Statistics Canada, as recreational marijuana reached record sales and more patients arranged to grow their own plants.

Patients in Canada spent 242 million Canadian dollars ($197 million) on medical cannabis in the first half of this year, down from CA$294 million in the second half of 2020 and 23% lower than the record CA$316 million spent in the final six months of 2017, the new figures show.

This year’s first-half spending is the lowest for a six-month period since 2016, when expenditures totaled CA$177 million in the last two quarters.

In February, there were 265,841 active cannabis patient registrations with federal cannabis license holders, also a multiyear low, before rising slightly to 292,399 in March, according to the Health Canada data.

In Canada, most medical cannabis is sold directly to patients via a licensed producer. There are no federally legal medical cannabis storefronts.

However, more Canadians than ever are choosing to grow their own medical marijuana.

Those registered with Health Canada to produce cannabis for their own medical purposes – or who designate someone to produce it for them – have almost doubled since 2018.

In October 2018, 25,945 patients were authorized to grow their own medical cannabis or had designated someone to grow it on their behalf.

That total reached a record 43,680 in December 2020 before falling to 39,525 in March, according to the latest data disclosure.

Ken Weisbrod, the former head of cannabis strategy at Canada’s largest drug store, Toronto-based Shoppers Drug Mart, said the proliferation of recreational marijuana stores in the nation is probably pulling some convenience- and value-seeking patients to the adult-use market.

“You’ve got a jump in stores and things opening up again, (some) provinces are allowing curbside pickup, so it became much easier for medical patients to call up the store and get their medicine, if they were already set on their therapy,” Weisbrod said in a phone interview.

Weisbrod has observed a steady decline in medical cannabis sales as accessibility in the adult-use market has grown.

He said medical cannabis sales could be revived after licensed producers achieve standardization in manufacturing and complete successful trials in support of clinical outcomes.

“What’s really encouraging is that some companies are taking it a step further by looking to get a natural health product license, and at the highest level, a drug establishment license in Canada,” Weisbrod said.

“Health Canada’s GMP is one of the highest standards in the world, demonstrating an ability to manufacture at the highest quality. That’s where the medical (cannabis) patient will end up.”

He noted that “these companies will be able to start to support their products with (health) claims as they go down the study route.”

“Those products are medical,” Weisbrod added. “You’ll see a shift to really distinguish.”

Matt Lamers can be reached at