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The medical cannabis industry is growing rapidly. Just last year, the United Kingdom became the latest country to begin the process of legalisation. As the number of countries to legalise the drug for medical treatments continues to grow, Canadian marijuana companies, the industry leaders, invest heavily in their European operations. “We expect the European Union to become the largest medical cannabis market in the world,” Toronto-based Tilray stated recently. Luxembourg, which legalised medical marijuana earlier this year, is one of the countries, to receive the substance from the True North. Earlier this month, a sudden lack of stock forced the Ministry of Health to stop parts of the programme. Applications from new patients could no longer be accepted, the Ministry announced in a statement. Officials were unable to announce a date when the full programme would resume. While Luxembourg (with a population just south of 600,000) represents only a tiny fraction of this growing market – worth an estimated US$66.3 billion by 2025 – the Grand Duchy shares these problems with other nations, including Canada itself.
No fewer than a quarter of all Canadian patients claimed in a recent survey, commissioned by the Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), the Arthritis Society and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CphA), that it has become considerably harder to gain access to their medicine. Nearly 1 in 2 admitted to buying their medicine on the illicit market, where, in addition, pot remains far cheaper than in the legal stores. Among lower-income (i.e., below CAD 50,000) users, an astonishing sixty per cent claimed they used the black market to gain access. If nothing else, it helped them avoid paying, what many of them call, an “unfair” tax of 10 to 15 per cent. The Trudeau government introduced the tax on medical marijuana last year, hoping to protect the medical market from an invasion by recreational users.
Buying pot for medical purposes on the illicit market also comes with potentially dangerous consequences. The substance will in all likelihood not be as clean as the ones sold by medical professionals (or official stores). Furthermore, none of these customers can expect to gain accurate medical information about the drug. Six in ten Canadians now use cannabis while they are on different medications. 34 per cent of consumers do not consult with anybody. While Boomers are most hesitant to trust anyone outside of the medical system, young people are much more open to do just that. 85 per cent trust a friend or relative, who has experience of using medical marijuana. 82 per cent are willing to place their trust in a representative from a licensed cannabis company.
Not all Canadian patients dealing with a lack of stock and rising costs did join the black market. But they were, nonetheless, forced to make risky adjustments. They either severely under-dose or slightly stretch out their medical marijuana. According to the survey, a staggering sixty-four per cent of patients have gone down that road.
The results from the survey slightly challenge the view of the liberal Trudeau government that their “plan is working.” A spokesperson told the Boston Globe: “After only a few months, we have already displaced a sizeable portion of the illicit market and the rate of consumption remains unchanged.”
Latest figures by Statistics Canada, however, show how the Liberal government, whose goal to almost eliminate the black cannabis market, remains miles away from this target. “The share of respondents who reported purchasing illegally due to ‘legal cannabis being too expensive’ rose from 27 percent in the first quarter of 2019, to 34 percent in the second quarter,” the Ottawa-based agency stated in a press release a few weeks ago. Overall, the share of respondents purchasing marijuana illegally rose from 55 per cent in the first quarter to 59 per cent in the second quarter of 2019, cementing its position as the ultimate market leader.
The North American country thus suffers the same fate as Uruguay, which became the first country in the world to legalise the drug in December 2013. The stock in the country’s pharmacies had dried up after just twenty-four hours and users went back to the black market. To this day, as revealed by a documentary from the public Franco-German TV station Arte, the majority of pot in Uruguay is still bought on the black market.
In Canada, a still booming illicit market for cannabis is one reason why, in the words of Mitch Bourbonnierre, a community social worker in Winnipeg, the legalisation has “stretched resources” in the fight against drug addictions. Officials in Winnipeg estimate the legalisation of the drug will cost the city CAD 3.5 million in 2018 and 2019 alone. Other municipals, such as Calgary, Alberta, have even higher estimates. Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi believes the legalisation will cost his city over 10 million dollars over the same period.
As Luxembourg gets ready to become the first state in the European Union (and with the UK potentially eyeing to become the second European state) to legalise recreational pot for adult residents, it faces some of the same daunting challenges. The fear that the country could see a rise in youth consumption might, however, not be one of them. While concerns are understandable, Canada (nor the US state of Colorado, which legalised the drug back in 2014 and whose head of Public Health and Environment Department, Dr Larry Wolk, gets interviewed in the ARTE documentary) has seen such a rise. On this, lawmakers in North America seemingly found the “right answers.”
After visiting the True North earlier this year, Luxembourg’s Justice Secretary Félix Braz (Greens) was impressed at how the country’s lawmakers had “asked all the important questions.” Though he claimed not to “copy-paste” the Canadian legislation, vowing to find a “Luxembourgish Model,” the Deputy Prime Minister still promised to “answer all the questions.” The country’s predecessor on this issue will look very closely if his tiny Grand Duchy is able to actually find an answer to the ultimate question – how do we protect the people who really need the drug to live their lives?