Health Canada is receiving license applications from potential medical marijuana cultivators and suppliers at such a prodigious rate that the nation's federal health agency is experiencing difficulty evaluating and approving them in a sufficient time frame.

The application process is part of the revamping of Health Canada's medical pot regulations, officially established on April 1, in which thousands of cultivating caregivers and patients are to be replaced by an estimated 50 large-scale cannabis companies that will ship high-quality weed to patients nationwide. Technically, there is no cap on the number of indoor cultivators that can be approved under the new system, so the applications continue to pour in.  

As of late May, Health Canada had received 858 applications to grow medicinal cannabis, with 25 new license requests coming in weekly. Despite the large number, to date only 13 licensed suppliers have been officially designated as authorized sources from which pot patients can access medicine. Fortunately, a British Columbia court injunction allows previously licensed patients and their caregivers to continue growing marijuana at home for the time being. 

Health Canada spokeswoman Sara Lauer said thus far 370 licenses were not properly completed, 30 were withdrawn and 149 outright refused. The underfunded agency is struggling to put the remaining 289 applications through the rigorous vetting process, which includes extensive security checks and cultivation site inspections. 

Lauer noted that over 5,000 patients are currently registered to receive pot under the new system, and that Health Canada has more than enough supply to meet their demand, with approximately 60 strains provided by the licensed suppliers available to patients at a cost of $8 to $12 a gram. However, the health department has stocked up 500 kilograms (over 1,100 pounds) from their original supplier, has imported another 100 kilos from the Netherlands and is considering ordering more medical pot from Israel. 

The competing businesses are vying for a potentially large financial windfall – by 2024 it is projected there will be 450,000 registered Canadian pot patients spending an estimated $1.3 billion annually on medicine.