Supply challenges in cannabis industry affecting medical patients

Licensed producers are facing challenges supplying cannabis to the recreational market in Canada and advocates say some medicinal patients are also facing barriers accessing their medicine.

The organization which represents the licensed producers who grow 85 per cent of the country’s medical and adult recreational cannabis said the introduction of the recreational market on Oct. 17 has placed additional pressure on the cannabis industry as a whole.

“Every time a patient is waiting for an order, we in the sector feel that we have a problem,” said Cannabis Council of Canada executive director Allan Rewak. “Cannabis is very much available for medicinal patients but certain companies are facing supply challenges and that’s not uncommon under the ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) medical framework.

“That’s not to say product in any way is being diverted, it’s simply to say that this new and exciting adult consumer use stream has taken a lot of time and effort from our companies and, like any industry, it’s been a tough thing to deal with.”

Rewak, who said labelling supply challenges as a shortage would be a misrepresentation of the situation, told CTV Winnipeg even though companies are scaling up production capacity it’s not uncommon for certain strains of pot which are high in demand, to sell out.

He said most producers have prioritized medical patients and that if a medicinal product is unavailable, most companies have a comparable one on offer.

“Thankfully under Bill C-45, it is a little easier for patients to migrate from one licensed producer to another,” said Rewak. “I would encourage the patient facing sustained challenges getting the medicine they need to explore, with their medical professional, perhaps checking out another LP (licensed producer) that might be able to get them the product in a tighter time frame to ensure that their needs are met.”

Ashleigh Brown uses cannabis to help manage seizures and founded a Facebook group called SheCann, which aims to help other medicinal patients access cannabis. She said some of the group’s 2500 members nationwide have reported difficulties getting prescriptions filled but she said patients can go to other producers to fulfill their needs.

“If someone is experiencing a supply issue they can transfer their medical document from one licensed producer to the other by making a phone call, similar to the way you’d do it at a pharmacy with another prescription medication,” said Brown. “We are encouraging patients to do that and to vote with their wallet. So, if they’re not experiencing the service, or supply, or access that they need, or, have come to rely upon – we are really empowering them to look at who is offering the product they need.”

Health Canada said in an emailed statement it’s aware of localized shortages of supply in some markets and in some product lines.

“This was expected and will likely continue in the months ahead, as producers of cannabis and provincial and territorial distributors and retailers aim to match production and shipment levels to market demand,” the statement reads. “Licensed producers continue to expand their production, and Health Canada anticipates that the overall levels of supply will continue to grow month over month. Based on all available data, there will remain, in aggregate, more than enough supply of dried cannabis and cannabis oils to meet Canadian legal demand in the marketplace.

“The challenge will continue to be for licensed processors to work with distributors and retailers to process, package existing inventory and ship final products to meet consumer demand.”

Medical cannabis is generally less expensive than recreational pot, according to Brown, and some companies offer compassionate pricing to patients living on a low income.

Rewak said generally cannabis with higher levels of THC is favoured for recreational use while cannabis with higher levels of CBD is in higher demand with the medical community.

“Cannabis is a plant – and whether it’s used for recreational adult consume use purposes or for medicinal purposes – the core plant is the same,” he said. “Generally, for medical strains there tends to be greater demand for high CBD products, with lower levels of THC which is the primary psychoactive agent in Cannabis, whereas for adult consume use cannabis there tends to be greater demands for high quantities of THC and lower qualities of CBD but that’s variable,” he said.