The Next Big Thing: 5 Steps for Importing Cannabis into Canada

By Spencer Bailey | April 21, 2017

Now that we’ve seen the federal government’s proposed Cannabis Act, we will now wait to see how the provinces each shape the distribution of cannabis across the nation. While this eventual development will certainly capture the interest of Canada’s licensed producers, medical cannabis patients, doctors, and recreational enthusiasts, something else very exciting is already underway that may bring tremendous value to the Canadian cannabis market: international trade.

Cannabis may be imported or exported for a number of reasons: for scientific analysis, for its genetic value and propagation, or even for consumption. Importing and exporting cannabis to and from Canada requires an understanding of a complex array of statutes, regulations, and practices of national and international regulatory bodies – which can be a smooth and efficient process with the right advice and insight into the broader framework. In this article, we’ll consider the first half of the equation of trade: imports.

The International Picture

Importing cannabis in Canada is governed not only by domestic laws, but also falls under international treaties (some of which may yet present some issues). For the purposes of this article, we will look exclusively at the existing Canadian framework for cannabis consumed for medical purposes (as opposed to the recreational consumption proposed under the Cannabis Act).

Step 1: The Importing Entity

There are a number of different entities under Canada’s laws that can facilitate the import cannabis into Canada, each with their own regulatory framework. For potential exporters to Canada, approaching the correct importing entity may have strategic advantages. For the purposes of this article, we will focus only on “Licensed Producers”, under Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (also called the “ACMPR”).

Step 2: The Imported Substance

Licensed Producers may wish to import a number of different substances: dried cannabis, cannabis seeds, or even viable cannabis plants or cuttings, sometimes referred to as “clones”, depending on their needs. Determining the form of cannabis to be imported and its intended use upon arrival is extremely important, as it has far-reaching consequences for the regulatory framework to be applied.

For example, cannabis seeds are treated differently than viable cannabis plants under the Plant Protection Act and its regulations, and are also governed by the Seeds Act and its regulations. Both of the Plant Protection Act and the Seeds Act regulate the import and export of plants and plant material with a view to ensuring that potentially harmful plants, seeds, or harmful organisms that either may bring with them, do not enter Canada and are not subsequently spread around the globe.

Step 3: Permits from Health Canada

Before an importer receives any other permits or certifications, Health Canada must first issue an import certificate for cannabis. In order to do so, Health Canada needs to independently confirm that the exporting entity is doing so in accordance with a local regulatory authority recognized under the United Nations’ publication: “Competent National Authorities under the International Drug Control Treaties”. Details on the specifics of the cannabis shipment must be included in the import permit application:

  • its intended use;
  • if applicable, its brand name;
  • its quantity;
  • in the case of dried cannabis, its percentages of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol
  • the name and address of the exporter in the exporter’s country of origin
    • the port of entry into Canada;
    • the address of the customs office, sufferance warehouse or bonded warehouse to which the substance is to be delivered; and
    • each mode of transportation used, the country of export and, if applicable, any country of transit or transshipment.

Import permits are issued for single shipments, with time-limited windows. Given the complexity of arranging for an import, it is advisable that a potential importer assess all of its regulatory obligations to ensure its permits do not expire prior to the shipment date.

Step 4: Permits from other Agencies

As many cannabis advocates often note, while cannabis is a controlled substance in Canada, at the end of the day, it is also simply a plant. Upon receipt by the Licensed Producer of an import permit from Health Canada, an importer may be expected to gather additional permits outside of those from Health Canada – for example, from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). For example, a “Plant Health Import Permit” will be required where cannabis plants are to be imported for the purposes of propagation. This application will require the identification of the importer, exporter, and further details on the substance to be imported.

Step 5: Permits for the Exporter

Importing is only half of the equation in bringing foreign goods into Canada. On the export side, exporters will not only need to consult local regulations to ensure all export permits and permissions are secured, but should also coordinate with importers to ensure all documentation that must accompany a shipment is included with the shipment when it arrives at its designated port of entry into Canada. This will include the paperwork referred to in Steps 3 and 4 above, as well documents particular to the nature of the substance to be shipped. For example, a shipment of cannabis may require pre-treatment to remove soil or debris and a Phytosanitary Certificate, which evidences the absence of stipulated pests or harmful organisms. These certificates must be issued by an entity that is recognized by a local regulatory authority approved by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and will vary according to the substance to be imported and the identity of the exporting country. Once all required documentation and permissions are secured, the cannabis may be transported, and arrangements made for its release from the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Cannabis: An International Commodity

As countries around the world change their regulations to embrace the medicinal qualities of the cannabis sativa plant, international trade in the cannabis and its various derivations is inevitable. Companies and countries prepared to encourage the sharing of cannabis products, genetic material, and know-how will all benefit in the ways that only an international market can provide: with higher quality products, more competitive pricing, and ongoing innovation across all aspects of the industry. With the Canadian cannabis market steaming ahead, now is the time for interested players to start making strategic decisions to secure their place in what will certainly be a new international industry.

Comments (3)

  1. Jules:
    Dec 29, 2018 at 12:53 AM

    Fascinating article. Very in depth. My one question is: from where would Canada import cannabis? Are there countries currently exporting cannabis legally? Uraguay seems like the most economical source, although shipping costs could be an issue.

  2. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM

    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.

  3. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM

    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.

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