Around this time last year excited whispers descended north of the border. They emanated from laboratories, universities, and research centers across Canada. If you heard these hushed murmurs—perhaps in the New York Times, WIRED UK, this publication, and even The South China Morning Post—they all told the same story. Canada was poised to become world leaders in marijuana research and scientists throughout The Great White North were thrilled to participate.
Unfortunately, a passing year can make all the difference. CTV News reports that Canadian scientists are currently mired in a Borgesian complex of pending bureaucratic approval and applications. Academics must first attain a research license in Canada prior to starting research, but only 65 new licenses successfully made it through the system since Canada legalized marijuana Oct. 17. In addition, 350 existing research licenses must transition from previous legislation to the new Cannabis Act, causing delays in research.
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Health Canada told CTV “there have been challenges in processing times for new research license applications.” Those are words many marijuana researchers throughout Canada understand. Another 250 research license applications also sit in varying levels of review process, with no stated timetable for their conclusion.
“Some people don’t even try because it’s so difficult,” Simon Fraser University PhD candidate Bertrand Sager told CTV.
According to Sager, Health Canada outlines numerous requirements for license approval. Some of these requirements “seems to be geared towards R and D on cannabis products, which is not what we’re doing.” They include physical security and “appropriate” storage measures, detailed “tracking of the inventory, production, and destruction of cannabis,” and more.
“Research licences are intended to provide a mechanism to authorize otherwise prohibited activities with cannabis for the purpose of research,” Health Canada said in a statement, but could not explain what “prohibited activates” researchers were participating in when cannabis was recreationally legal nationwide.
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Fraser intended to study the effects cannabis use has on drivers, but has seen his plans continuously delayed. The goal was to create a driving replica that would track the reactions of test subjects to various stimuli in a controlled environment. Though the test would have remained in a lab with no actual driving taking place, Sager’s team has been unable to start research despite applying for a research license ahead of legalization.
“It’s very frustrating because when we heard rumors cannabis would be legalized we began designing the study because we wanted to be among the first out the door,” Sager said.
For now, it appears the narrative of Canada becoming a marijuana research epicenter has yet to realize. And it probably won’t be realized until Canada streamlines the process for Canadian researchers. When that might happen is anyone’s guess.