Canada Angers Global Market, By Ray Mwareya

Canada is one of the world´s hottest cannabis markets but, since 2018, very little cannabis has been imported into the country. In fact, zero medical cannabis has been imported for resale. This has sparked fury abroad that Canada actively promotes “cannabis unfair trade.”

Competitor countries say that, in practice, Canada is levying a ban on a medical cannabis imports that could be sold commercially.

Data from Health Canada, the country´s federal health agency, shows only a tiny 20kg of dried cannabis came into Canada from abroad in the period from October 2018 to August 14, 2020. During the same period, 200.35 milliliters (6.8 ounces) of cannabis oil were lawfully imported into the country too. The reason for the imports was to bolster scientific research, a spokeswoman for Health Canada explained. This implies that none of the cannabis was made available for purchase by Canadian patients.

Amusingly, commercial exports of cannabis from Canada are booming while imports, as data shows, are heavily suppressed. In 2019, about 5,372 liters (1,419 gallons) of Canadian-produced cannabis oil products were facilitated for export to a dozen and half countries. In 2018, 919 liters had been authorized to be shipped abroad. As for dried cannabis that could be used in medical and biology research, in 2019, exports from Canada doubled to 3,740 kg in 2019.

Countries abroad are angry that Canada is actively disabling foreign competitors from setting foot on its domestic cannabis market.

For instance, in the Caribbean, Jamaica, a significant grower of cannabis, is disappointed at Canada´s trade tactics and plans to appeal directly to Canada´s government to reverse tactics.

International medical cannabis sellers and producers are also livid about Canada´s way of doing business. An executive of a multinational cannabis corporation who requested anonymity for fear of jeopardizing market opportunities told Weed World: “This is so uncool. Medical cannabis that achieves globally recognized safety standards is affordable for both the patient and consumer, so such imports into Canada must be actively sought. Competition is a healthy way to deliver cheaper medical cannabis to patients.”

The executive made a proposal that licensed cannabis corporations must not be gagged from setting foothold in Canada´s medical marijuana industry – if they are engaging in partnership with a legalized Canadian firm on the import side of the business.”

Gagging foreign medical cannabis corporations from exporting to Canada can have a bad rebound effect on Canadian companies that have sunk nearly a billion growing fields abroad in likes of South Africa, Lesotho, and Jamaica. This under-the-radar ban of cannabis imports into Canada could harm Canadian companies that are cultivating abroad from shipping their product back home to Canada. This freezes them from accessing the base of consumers at home in Canada willing to buy cannabis imported from overseas.

This is important because Canada is one of the world´s most functional and government-regulated medical marijuana market, hence the appeal of its consumers for foreign suppliers.

Canada could also be running afoul of international trade law, says an attorney who specializes in the field. “Make no mistake about it, Canada is breaking its own international trade pacts,” says Mark Warner, a lawyer in Toronto specializing in international competition, trade and investment law. “Canada is begging for a lawsuit. The issue is, who would bring that case? It´s unlikely that, so far, anyone has appetite to go to court in the foreseeable future.”

The problem is that one of the most vocal complainants is Jamaica but the island is a tiny country that doesn’t have the muscle to sway the World Trade Organization (WTO). Other aggrieved producers, such as Colombia and Israel, are just setting up their infrastructure and are not aggressive users of WTO tribunals.

Warner believes it´s the European Union that will likely fire the first shot using its Canada-EU trade agreement and ask Canada to sit on the table and devise cooperation that can result in a “fairer” cannabis trade regime.

“Negotiation first is preferable to going out with knives when it comes to cannabis,” says Warner.

Published and Written by Ray Mwareya in Weed World Magazine Issue 148

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