Canada Post's looming lockout or strike could have significant ramifications for the nation's medical marijuana industry. Canada's medical marijuana patients - estimated to number around 75,000 - can only legally purchase their medicine through a mail-order system connecting them with growers licensed by Health Canada. And most of those licensed producers (LP's) use Canada Post to deliver that medicine.
But they may soon have to find other means to supply the needs of patients. Late last week, Canada Post warned LP's that they can't guarantee patients will receive their medicine on time if a strike or lockout occurs as early as July 2. As an alternative, LP's can deliver their product - at an additional cost - through courier services like Purolator. However, those services can't deliver to post-office boxes, which are common in remote areas of Canada.
The situation has left some LP's scrambling to figure out how to serve their customers. But others arranged to put contingency plans in place when news of a potential service interruption first broke.
"We planned ahead and there will be no impact on our patients," Cam Battley - Senior Vice President of the Alberta-based LP Aurora Cannabis - told Civilized.
"We've got backup plans in place to make sure every patient receives their package by courier. We have a small number of patients in areas where there isn't courier service, so we contacted each one and encouraged them to order their product early. And then - as a backup in case there's lengthy service disruption - we recommended they set up another authorized address to receive their medicine."
So will using those courier services inflate the costs of shipping marijuana? "Not significantly no," Battley said. "And it won't change our pricing policy." Which means patients won't be asked to foot the bill.
Mail stoppage won't hinder industry growth
Battley doesn't think this setback - if it comes to pass - will have a huge impact on Aurora or other LP's.
"I don't think so, no. The disruption will happen, or it won't. It will eventually end. We have our contingency plans in place. And we imagine that to a greater or lesser degree that other LP's have as well."
Part of Aurora's plans include continuing to expand their same-day service. Right now, Aurora can deliver cannabis to patients in Calgary within eight hours of their purchase.
"We anticipate announcing same-day delivery shortly in Red Deer and Edmonton. And we believe that once it's fully implemented, we'll be able to cover a population of about 2.5 million people in Alberta with same-day service."
So at least one LP might see its clientele expand during Canada Post's labor stoppage. But Battley added that others will likely continue to flourish as more patients and physicians are getting on board with medical cannabis.
"We're seeing a lot more physicians across the country writing prescriptions for cannabis. So the number of patients is rising. The number of physicians willing to write prescriptions is rising...No one is recommending cannabis for first-line therapy yet - yet," Battley stressed. "But many have recognized the health benefits of cannabis and its low threshold of abuse. We still have to have a more robust body of clinical evidence - but that's happening rapidly, not just in Canada but around the world."
And physicians are also becoming more comfortable with cannabis based on their experience prescribing it.
"Physicians are gaining their own clinical experience with cannabis. They're determining which patients could benefit from it and they're gaining knowledge of how to prescribe it. What we're seeing now is a very rapid normalization of medical cannabis where it's essentially becoming mainstream."
A boon for dispensaries?
TORONTO,CANADA-MAY 26,2016: Bloor Gift Smoke Dipensary Sign in Bloor Street. The city is in the middle of controversial legal issues regarding pot legalizationrmnoa357 / Shutterstock.com
But will those new patients purchase medicine through LP's or the illegal marijuana dispensaries operating in cities like Vancouver and Toronto? According to CBC, patients are discussing their own contingency plans in case of a postal strike/lockout, and some might opt to buy cannabis through dispensaries instead of LP's.
But Battley says that Aurora and other LP's should focus on providing the best product and the best customer service rather than worrying about what the dispensaries are doing.
"They do what they do. We do what we do," he said. "We feel that patients are extremely satisfied with the quality of our cannabis and service. Thus far, we have well over 90 percent customer retention rate...What we're finding is that our patients are very happy with the quality of the cannabis they're receiving. And very happy with our customer care."
He also suggests that the perceived conflict between LP's and dispensaries is overblown, noting that LP's have taken root and prospered in provinces like British Columbia where illegal dispensaries been operating for decades. He also stressed that LP's feel gratitude toward dispensaries.
"We're very cognizant of the fact that it was compassion clubs and dispensaries who essentially created medical cannabis in Canada," he told Civilized. "They were pioneers. They took risks and went to court. And it's because of those early struggles that we have a medical system in Canada."
And it looks like that system has become strong enough to withstand ongoing labor struggles between mail carriers and Canada Post.
Banner Image: Michael Gil / Flickr.com