A new report from Ontario’s Office of the Auditor General says that over the last year the number of licensed producers has grown by a whopping 33 per cent, from just three to more than 100.
While the province still has not set a specific timeline for legalization, the auditor says the growth is unprecedented.
“This is a really exciting time for medical marijuana in Ontario,” said Dr. John Fergus, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
“We know there is a lot of work to be done, and it’s been a lot easier to get in the door than to go to the office and get licensed.”
The new numbers come on the heels of a report released by the Ontario Medical Association earlier this month which suggested that the industry was still in its infancy.
That report found that while there was a strong public appetite for medical cannabis, the industry had not been sufficiently transparent, and had been slow to get up to speed with regulatory requirements.
Fergus says that is largely because of the province’s restrictive licensing laws and the fact that the OMA, which represents the industry’s largest and oldest stakeholders, has not been willing to work with the government on a framework.
“It’s not that the government hasn’t been open to new ideas,” Fergus said.
“The fact is that we’re at a stage where we need to be in a position to work collaboratively with the private sector and have some of those regulatory tools in place that will allow us to do our jobs properly.”
Fergus points to the fact the government has already established a licensing framework for the recreational market in Canada.
That framework includes strict requirements for potency, production, packaging, and testing.
But there are no mandatory standards for dispensaries and producers.
Fives provinces have also introduced legislation that aims to ease licensing requirements, but have faced strong opposition from the industry.
In the meantime, Fergus estimates that in the coming years there will be as many as 500 licensed producers operating across the province.
“That’s a lot, a lot more than I think we’ve ever had before,” he said.
But for now, Fears says there is still much to be learned from Ontario.
“I think this is really a window into what the industry is looking at,” he added.
“What I think the auditor is going to find is that there are some of the elements of the licensing system that we need better and they need to work together to do that.”