Health Canada working to improve cannabis research license wait times

Health Canada is taking steps to combat long wait times for research licenses after admitting it was having challenges processing applicants.

A July article from CTV News highlighted Health Canada’s processing problems. It revealed that around 250 applicants were currently in the queue for research licenses and only 65 new licenses had been approved since recreational cannabis was legalized when the Cannabis Act passed in October, 2018.

Health Canada told CTV it was having “challenges in processing times for new research license applications” as it transitions hundreds of authorized research licenses from the Narcotics Control Regulations to the Cannabis Act.

Science Mag reports that researchers are frustrated by the long wait times for licenses.

Aurora Cannabis’ Chief Science Officer Jonathan Page told the magazine that Health Canada’s licensing system is swamped, and research doesn’t appear to be a priority.

University of Lethbridge plant geneticist Igor Kovalchuk noted that the licensing process became bogged down since recreational cannabis was legalized, which created a surge in applicants not only for research licenses, but also for growing, packaging and selling.

Improvements coming

Since CTV’s article, though, Health Canada appears to be more proactive towards approving research license applications, according to Science Mag. 

The agency now announces weekly the number of new research permits granted, and says 45 licenses were granted since the article was published, with 15 of them issued the week ending on August 16. That brings the total to 113 licenses issued since legalization.

A Health Canada spokesperson told Science Mag the agency is also boosting its employees working on cannabis license applications to 140 and expects the weekly number of licenses granted to grow in the coming weeks.

What could help is a new protocol to classify applicants based on risk, which would allow smaller projects that use less cannabis to get an expedited review.

The agency hopes to soon approve research licenses for a single project in 45 days and multi-project licenses in 180 days.

A research license allows the possession, transportation and chemical alteration of the cannabis plant, which would otherwise be illegal under the Cannabis Act.

Research license applicants must show how much cannabis they plan to use, submit floor plans that meet security requirements, and offer a plan on how they will destroy the unused cannabis at the end of the project, which requires two witnesses to ensure it is done.

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