Health Canada has hired over 30 new employees to handle the influx, but many patients say they are still waiting several months for approval.
According to new information from Health Canada, as of June 16, 2017, there were 6,225 active registration certificates issued by Health Canada for individuals to produce a limited amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes. Of these 6,225 registrants, says a Health Canada representative, 5,760 individuals were registered to produce cannabis for their own medical purposes and 465 individuals have designated persons to produce cannabis for them.
The program, introduced in August of last year, once again introduced legislation that allows patients who register with Health Canada to grow a limited number of plants for their own purpose, or to designate an authorized grower to do so for them. Health Canada had formerly allowed home production under a previous medical marijuana regime, the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR), but halted new applications with the introduction of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2014.
Interest in the program quickly created a backlog, with over 2,500 people seeking to register in the first six months or so, and over 4,000 by May, forcing Health Canada to hire 17 new employees to help manage the process. The regulator now says they added 21 individuals in April and May of this year and an additional 11 employees in June.
Health Canada admits processing times can take from 2-4 months, ‘depending on the complexity of the application.’ In February, they said the average wait time was seven weeks, which included earlier processing times in the first weeks of registration.
Lift exchanged emails with many Canadians who applied to the system and say they have been waiting even longer. Medical cannabis patients Lift spoke to earlier this year reported waiting several months, and some of those patients we contacted recently say they are still waiting.
One medical cannabis patient Lift has been in contact with since May, Daryl, who asked that we only use his first name, says he applied when the program was first announced, but initially had his paperwork limited to three months by his doctor. His renewal, he says, took 6 months to process.
“That renewal paperwork was submitted via Expresspost on November 21, 2016 and signed by HC on December 5, 2016,” Daryl wrote to Lift earlier this year. “I got my renewal on April 10, 2017. I phoned Health Canada every 2 weeks, waiting approx 15-45 mins each time to speak with someone before being told my application was being worked on.”
Daryl says he continued to grow even while waiting for his renewal, and that his actions, if it came to it, would be protected by the court.
“The wait process is terrible, I have to apply again at the end of the month in hopes I get my renewal before it expires again in November. I feel terrible about this program and I know the courts would protect me as a medical patient if I were to ever have police come knocking.”
Lift contacted Daryl again recently to check in with his process, and he says he’s already worked with his doctor to submit a renewal to Health Canada in expectation of its expiration this November.
“On May 29, 2017, I saw my doctor for a regular three month check up, at which time I spoke to him regarding concerns (with) the delay in applying with Health Canada. I brought in a renewal application and said I would like to submit it now, this is just about seven months before my current ACMPR personal production grow needs to be renewed.
“My doctor absolutely agreed and we sent it in, it was shown as delivered to Health Canada on June 6, 2017. I tried on 3 occasions to contact Health Canada to inquire on the status of my application, however after more than 1 hour waits on hold each time, I hung up in frustration.”
Another medical cannabis user we spoke with in May and again last week, Craig, who also asked we only use his first name, said he just recently received his approved paperwork in June.
Craig says he first applied in November, but had his paperwork returned as incorrect because his doctor had checked the wrong box, and had to reapply in January. It has since been approved, but, like Daryl, Craig is now concerned about getting his authorization to grow his own marijuana renewed in time for him to continue to grow legally. Craig says it took over five months to receive that approval.
“I initially sent my paperwork back in November of 2016,” Craig wrote to Lift in May. “It got returned to me in January as my medical document had some box checked from my doctor’s office that should not have been checked. I mailed it back to them without this box that caused issue in the middle of January 2017.”
“I received authorization around the beginning of June,” Craig wrote to Lift last week. “It was 22 weeks from the date they advised me they had received the complete (error-free) application to the date it was in my hands.”
Craig says he is growing outdoors and expects to harvest before his license expires, but wants to make sure he can keep growing inside through the winter.
“It took 22 weeks to get my papers and all is well in that regard. I am concerned that I may need to apply for my renewal sooner than later as it expires in November.”
While frustrated with the wait time, Craig says he’s still happy with the program and happy to hear Health Canada is hiring more employees.
“I feel this personal cultivation program is only going to get bigger and they will need to keep adding staff. It should be a process that takes a few weeks at most if all the information has been received and the application is error free, not months.”
While some physicians have expressed reluctance to be the gatekeepers of who can grow their own cannabis for medical purposes, other companies have sprouted up that are catering to this demand, some advertising graduated rates depending on how many plants are to be approved.
A representative for Health Canada told Lift wait times can often be due to the ‘quality’ of applications and that wait times may be due to the need for employees to verify aspects of the paperwork.
“The time to review an application and issue a registration certificate is highly dependent upon the number of applications received, and the quality or the completeness of the applications. It also depends on the response time of applicants or healthcare practitioners, who may be contacted by our client service representatives to verify information or to provide additional clarification.”