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The head of Health Canada’s cannabis licensing team said her group is looking to make license approval more efficient.

Speaking to attendees of the Lift & Co. conference in Vancouver, Joanne Garrah, director of licensing and security for the federal government's Legalization and Regulation branch, acknowledged the significant backlog of license applications, as well as more than 4,000 unanswered inquiries from individuals.

"I would love to say that from our perspective everything is smooth sailing at Health Canada, and the roll-out has gone perfectly as planned. But with any new program, there's been challenges I would say from an internal perspective,” Ms. Garrah said.

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The federal government has significantly ramped up its capacity to process license applications, Ms. Garrah said. Her own team has tripled in size in the last six months, and of the 145 licensed operators, roughly 90 have received approval in the last 12 months.

However, amid country-wide shortages that have forced provinces to dramatically rethink the implementation of their retail systems, Health Canada is “looking at opportunities to continue to create efficiencies within how we review the submissions,” Ms. Garrah said.

She did not go into much detail, but pointed out that Health Canada was primarily concerned with “high risk” activities, such as selling product to an end consumer. That could mean that companies engaged in earlier stages of the production chain – processing product or selling it wholesale, business to business – may be able to get licensed conditionally.

The licensing regime has already changed to allow companies that are licensed for cultivation to sell their product wholesale to fully licensed companies, who then take responsibility for quality assurance and can sell it on to end consumers. In the fall, Health Canada also said that it would also grant conditional licenses to several late-stage applicants who were almost through the approvals process, but still waiting on final security checks.

“We certainly still have a fairly large list of applicants that are currently in queue... That’s probably where I lose the most sleep – just a lot of people who have been waiting a long time and want reasonable access to a market,” Ms. Garrah said

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