After becoming just the second country to legalize marijuana nationwide, Canada has the potential to lead the world in cannabis research – if they can cut the bureaucratic red tape.
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Marijuana research in Canada stands in stark contrast with what is happening in the United States. With its progressive approach, Canada has more in common with world-leading Israel when it comes to cannabis research.
At least, it has that potential. But red tape is currently standing in the way of success.
In the United States, a federally funded researcher has sued the Drug Enforcement Administration because of the poor quality of marijuana available for research. Currently, cannabis used for research in the U.S. is grown in only place, the University of Mississippi.
In Canada, researchers don’t have an issue with the quality of the marijuana, but rather with the speed of getting research applications approved. Health Canada, the government agency in charge of the process, admitted to CTV News that “there have been challenges” in processing new applications.
A system overwhelmed by applications
CTV in Canada first reported on the red tape issue in the summer of 2019. They wrote that
There are 350 research license applications still being processed to ensure they are compliant with Canadian laws and regulations. Another 250 new applications are at various stages of initial review.
As of mid-summer, Health Canada had processed only 65 new research applications, CTV reported.
The issue could provide foreshadowing of what research might look like in the United States should cannabis ever become legal. Health Canada told CTV in an emailed statement that the agency must ensure that every application meets a wide variety of regulations, including:
- Security to prevent unauthorized access
- The appropriate amount of storage
- Proper record keeping tracking inventory, production and destruction of cannabis
- Prevention measures in place to ensure research marijuana doesn’t find its way to the retail market
As can be seen, much of the issue involves government concern that research marijuana is going to end up on the retail market. That’s not a problem in the U.S., where research marijuana is far below the grade of marijuana sold in dispensaries.
However, as researchers noted to Science Magazine, it’s a bit odd to be forced to wait for approval to study small amounts of cannabis when many students at research universities can buy marijuana whenever they want.
What they want to study
Untangling the red tape is a priority for Health Canada. The agency hopes to reach a pace of 42 approvals per day and a 180-day turnaround for approval.
Another concern in Canada is losing its advantage over other countries in cannabis research. Dr. Michael Verbora, a physician and professor at McMaster University, told CTV News that he hopes the government will solve the application review process issue quickly..
“I am fearful that other countries will regulate this a little bit better and we will lose our opportunity and our position, potentially, as research leaders on cannabis,” he said.