Today, Canada is launching a free market for medical marijuana, which is expected to eventually provide a standardized product to 450,000 Canadians, the Globe and Mail reports. Canada legalized medical marijuana in 2001, initially offering personal licenses to 500 patients, and today Health Canada calculates that 37,359 are approved medical marijuana users. Meanwhile, the number of patients with licenses to grow marijuana for themselves equals about 25,600.

The government hopes to transition from a system that relied on small-scale, homegrown medical marijuana of variable quality to a system of licensed private companies producing consistent, commercial strains of the plant while meeting exacting security requirements. Under the new system, the government will no longer produce and distribute the weed for medical purposes, and production will no longer take place in homes. Commercial growers also believe they can expand product selection and provide increased medicinal content. The move to large-scale marijuana production, though, does not indicate a willingness on the part of the federal conservative government to change Canada’s laws to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, however, that the government will “consider a proposal from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to introduce a ticketing system around pot possession,” reports Calgary Herald.

Those who regulate and police marijuana use have had difficulties since legalization began. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have complained, Canadian Press reported, that medical marijuana is frequently and illegally diverted to the black market.

Price Per Gram

In its announcements regarding the new system, the Canadian government has suggested the free-market system will reduce costs — though not for individual users. Health Canada has been selling medical marijuana, produced by Prairie Plant Systems, for $5 a gram. "The current program costs Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars each year because the $5/gram charged to program participants who choose to purchase from Health Canada is heavily subsidized," the Canadian Health Department stated in a communication. Under the new system, the health department noted, dried marijuana bud should cost an individual user about $7.60 per gram.

Prairie Plant Systems, based in Saskatoon, and CannaMed Ltd., a subsidiary, were granted the first two licenses. Under their still existing contract with the government — it expires in 2014 — Prairie Plant Systems and CannaMed provided up to 750 kg of marijuana annually to Health Canada. Sales and delivery of the ‘new’ free-market product are expected within weeks.