A bag of marijuana being prepared for sale, sits next to a money jar at BotanaCare in Northglenn, Colorado in this December 31, 2013 file photograph. The Colorado state Senate passed a bill on May 7, 2014 to create the nation's first state-run marijuana financial cooperative, with the ultimate aim of opening newly legalized cannabis retail outlets to key banking services through the Federal Reserve. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY POLITICS DRUGS)
Health Canada is currently groping with a pile of applications for licences to grow medical marijuana in the country. Even junior mining firms have joined the fray.
Health Canada said an average of 25 applications are filed at the department per week. As of May 20, it had received a total of 858 applications. However, out of the total number of applications, 370 were returned as incomplete, 149 were refused and 30 withdrawn.
"They're really an unfortunate bureaucracy under siege," Umar Syed, president of Toronto-based CannMart Inc., said. His company has been patiently waiting for a distribution licence since October.
"They're dealing with a situation they weren't prepared for. ... there's something really out of whack."
Medical marijuana sales, based on Health Canada estimates, will hit $1.3 billion annually by 2024, with some 450,000 registered users.
So far, Canada has only 13 licenced suppliers listed on the department's website as authorized marijuana sources for patients who have their doctor's approval to use cannabis for pain and other symptoms.
Health Canada said producers seeking license applications must first demonstrate how they meet extensive personnel security checks, physical security requirements, record-keeping equipment, and quality control requirement before a license can be issued to them.
"The review process includes a file review followed by site inspections. The licensing process is rigorous, considering the quality standards required and the risk of diversion of cannabis to the illicit market," Sara Lauer, a spokesperson for Health Canada, said.
Stephane Shank, another spokesperson for Health Canada, said the department will not fast-track approvals at the expense of security.
"Health Canada's priority in every review is ensuring that strict new security requirements are met, and is fully prepared to process all applications," Shank said.
"The department will continue with the rigorous licensing process and will not rush applications and risk compromising safety of our communities."