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Health Canada introduces changes for licence holders amid COVID-19 crisis

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Health Canada has provided licence holders in the cannabis industry with some updated and temporary policies.

In a March 30 email shared with Inside the Jar, the federal agency answered questions posed by companies about how they should adjust business operations in the face of the ongoing pandemic. These measures will be in place until May 1, and then reassessed. As cannabis has been deemed an essential service, companies are having to reassess their operating procedures in the face of staff shortages, social distancing, and other additional barriers.

Licences, amendments, security clearances

Health Canada says licences scheduled to expire in the next three months will be identified and reviewed in the coming days. Until the regulator can resume normal operations, it may provide extensions for licences that need renewing.

In light of changes brought about by social distancing measures and sick leave, both at the agency and at cannabis companies across the country, Health Canada is taking a triage approach to dealing with licence amendments and adjustments to security clearances. The licensing program is focusing on applications that are, for example, changing personnel in operational roles and/or adding storage rooms to mitigate issues during COVID-19. Those seeking to implement changes that are “critical to support operations during the pandemic response period” are asked to contact Health Canada by email.

If a company’s designated responsible person (RP) is unable to work during this time, Health Canada is allowing licence holders to replace this person with an alternate RP, or another person without a security clearance. These changes don’t require approval from the agency but licence holders are asked to notify Health Canada within five days of the change.

While every effort should be made to bring in an individual with a valid security clearance, Health Canada recognizes that self-isolation or illness may make it difficult for smaller companies to adapt. Licence holders may designate an individual without a security clearance “based on their own internal risk assessment”. This person may not have previously had a security clearance refused, suspended, or cancelled.

Manufacturing supplies for COVID-19

Health Canada has also informed licence holders that if they wish to contribute to the efforts against COVID-19 by manufacturing supplies such as hand sanitizer, prior approval is not required, however they should inform the agency and implement measures to ensure that cannabis products will not be contaminated in the process. So far, Canopy Growth, Hexo, Organigram, and Valens are among the companies that have committed to donating supplies to healthcare workers.

Changes to import/export licences

Travelling restrictions are also having an impact on LPs that export their product to other countries. Producers with soon-to-expire export permits may be able to receive an extension of up to 12 months, although extensions would be limited by the expiry date of their cultivation licence. Typically, those with import and export licences are required to make shipments from a specified port of exit or entry. Until May 1, permit holders will be permitted to use an alternative port.

Delays to inspections and annual reports

At this time, Health Canada is postponing all scheduled sales inspections. If they are unable to file annual promotions reports by March 31, licence holders have been given an extension until June 30.

Health Canada says further changes may still be announced, as it is still receiving questions from licence holders.