Growing your own medical cannabis in Canada

INTRODUCTION

Indoor Cannabis Farm

With the legalization of cannabis for both medical and recreational use in Canada, the liberal government also gave to Canadians the right to grow their own medical cannabis under very specific guidelines. They also provided Canadians with means of testing their production to make sure they know the quality, purity and cannabinoids content of the strain that they’ve grown. Not everyone is aware of all those rules, so our goal with this article is to shed some lights on what it would take to grow your own medical cannabis in Canada and any other information that may be good to know for medical cannabis home grower.

Registering to grow medical cannabis

The whole process for growing medical cannabis starts with registering as an official medical cannabis patient with the government of Canada. There is a registration process for the following authorizations:

  • Growing a limited amount of medical cannabis in Canada for your own medical use
  • Authorizing someone else as your designate to grow medical cannabis for your medical use
  • Buying from provincial, territorial or online cannabis stores as well as publicly possess more than 30 grams of cannabis for non-medical use.

The official form for this purpose can be found HERE.

Requirements for growing medical cannabis

The following requirements must be fulfilled in order to grow medical cannabis for one’s own use or as designate:

  • Be a resident or citizen of Canada
  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Haven’t been convicted of any cannabis related offense
  • Only registered once at any given time
  • Original medical document provided by a health care practitioner prescribing cannabis
  • Filled out and signed registration form
  • Written consent of the production site owner if site does not belong to the grower

The form and all required documents are to be mailed to de following address:

Health Canada

Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Program

Address Locator: 0302B

Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9

Incomplete application may not be processed.

When applying to designate someone else to grow medical cannabis for you, there are a whole other set of requirements that must be fulfilled; similar for buying from provincial, territorial or online registered stores or possessing more than 30 grams of non-medical cannabis in public. You can find more details on that process HERE

Once your application is received and successfully processed, Health Canada will issue a registration certificate authorizing you to legally grow or possess a limited quantity of cannabis for your own medical use or for someone you are designated to grow for.

How much cannabis can you grow?

Health Canada has a tool that can be used to figure out how much cannabis you can grow, whether you are growing for yourself or as a designate. The tool also helps to find out how much dried cannabis one can possess as a grower or a designated grower.

Recreational users with the new cannabis act in Canada are permitted to grow 4 plants. Medical cannabis user on the other hand are only limited by their prescription which depend on theirs health condition; in other words, there is no limit and that is why a calculator is needed to make sure people don’t just go crazy and grow more than they should; the calculator helps define a cap without discrimination. The only condition is to register and get an ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) license. Patients who don’t want to register will be limited to 4 plants.

Calculator

Cannabis Calculator picture

Patients with an ACMPR license can use the official calculator to figure out how many plants they can grow. The calculation is done based on the prescription and whether the culture is done indoor or outdoor. The table below shows an example of equivalency between the daily prescriptions and the number of plant that one will be allowed to grow.

DAILY PRESCRIPTION NR OF PLANTS OUTDOOR NR OF PLANTS INDOOR
10 GRAMS 19
10 GRAMS 49
10 GRAMS 10 37
30 GRAMS 57
30 GRAMS 146
30 GRAMS 29 110
50 GRAMS 95
50 GRAMS 244
50 GRAMS 48 183

Many factors dictate whether you should grow indoor or outdoor; the decision is all up to you. However, there are strict guidelines to follow.

Should I Grow Indoor or Outdoor

Indoor growing is very recent, less than a century old when it comes to cannabis growing. Most cannabis culture before prohibition took place outdoor and people only started exploring indoor culture because they had to hide their activities from law enforcers and others.

Young Cannabis plant indoor

With modern technology, growers started taking advantage of the benefits of indoor growing since weather and harsh temperatures observed in some areas were no longer a show stopper and one could literally grow anywhere with the right setup for a better control of light source, humidity, CO2 production, temperature etc.

Cannabis plant outdoor farm

While growing indoor guarantees a year-round production, it would never match an outdoor production because there are some natural parameters that one can never replicate such as sun light or the whole ecosystem that helps fight mites. The table above shows some significant differences when it comes to growing indoor or outdoor. For instance, for 10 grams of daily prescription, a patient would need 49 plants of medical cannabis when growing indoor; for the same daily prescription, someone growing outdoor would only need 19 plants.

Quality of Indoor cannabis vs Outdoor cannabis

Expert users love indoor grown medical cannabis and find it to be a high end product with THC levels that can almost never be reached outdoor. These results are due to the controlled environment and the handling after harvesting. Outdoor grown medical cannabis on the other hand has to sustain wind, rain and other weather elements that are not always positive for the end product.

With the new waves of legalization that medical and recreational cannabis are experiencing, new investors are stepping in with commercial size greenhouses to produce some kind of hybrid and thus capture the best of both worlds.

Cost of growing Indoor vs Outdoor

Cannabis growing from Money

While both culture styles require high starting investments, the indoor farm requires even more investment to acquire and maintain the whole indoor climate control system long term.

While labor cost for outdoor production is minimal even for larger farms, it only increases during harvesting season. On the other hand, indoor farms are more demanding as there is constant pruning, trellising, watering, feeding and harvesting for a leaner harvest.

What to do if you cannot grow yourself

With more people living in cities and in condo buildings, it is not always easy to have an indoor or outdoor garden. Lawmakers have also taken that into consideration and made provision for patients who cannot produce themselves to designate a person who would then apply for a license as designate and produce their medical cannabis on their behalf.

The person or patient designating is permitted to water or harvest cannabis plants as well as make cannabis products.

How much cannabis can a patient possess?

For ACMPR licensed patient, lawmakers in Canada also defined how much medical cannabis they can possess at a given time in public.

Any police officer or law enforcement officer can ask for the license to be presented and this is how they can tell how much medical cannabis a patient is allowed to possess at a given time. By law, registered patients are permitted to possess their daily supply for a whole month up to a maximum of 150 grams. For instance, if their prescription is 3 grams a day, they can possess in public 90 grams (3 grams x 30 days) at any given time. If their prescription is 7 grams per day and their monthly supply is 210 grams, the maximum that patient can possess is 150 grams as set in the regulation.

Cannabis Plants in Pots

If possessing fresh cannabis, the amount to possess is multiplied by 5. For instance, if the maximum amount of dried cannabis you can possess is 150 grams, you will be allowed to possess 450 grams of fresh medical cannabis. If using or producing derived cannabis product, you got to keep good track of the amount of dried or fresh cannabis used.

The license also states where one is supposed to store his or her produced cannabis which could be your own house, your growing site or your designate’s home.

Safety around medical cannabis production

Caution

The industrialization of medical cannabis cultivation comes with added safety concerns that should not be ignored. Many home grower also, in order to improve their results tend to use fertilizers and/or pesticides. The cultivation style, whether indoor or outdoor also creates conditions that may or may not create additional safety concerns. The following safety concerns can be identified:

  • Exposure to Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Exposure to THC can sometimes not be avoided if one is not wearing a face mask. Especially working indoor with poor ventilation, Eye, skin and respiratory system could be affected

  • Excessive exposure to UV(Ultraviolet) rays

Indoor plantations create UV through special lamps in order to induce vegetative state and flowering cycle.

  • Carbon monoxide(CO) and Nitrogen oxide(NOx) exposure

For indoor plantations, they use CO2 producing equipment that could leak the two gas above

  • Exposure to Pesticides and fertilizers

Most people always try to get good results and they tend to use pesticides and fertilizers, especially on certain strains that need extra help for better results

  • Heat-stress

Depending on the location of your plantation, outdoor farm with or without greenhouse could lead to heat stress if not well hydrated

  • Exposure to mold

In case of indoor farm if not properly ventilated workers are exposed to mold and all the health issues that come with it.

  • Electrical shock and burn

Growing indoor involves a whole setup with lamps to recreate the sun’s effect on the photosynthesis which creates the potential of electrical shock or being burned.

What you need to start growing medical cannabis

Assuming you are now registered and can legally grow cannabis for medical or recreational purpose, you need to decide whether to grow indoor or outdoor. For beginners, we would recommend outdoor to start with, especially because the initial investment for indoor could easily discourage many, and maybe down the road you could find out there is too much work on it and you would rather buy from the clinic. This being said, we must recognize that there are still countries where it is prohibited to grow cannabis outdoor; growers in such countries can only rely on indoor growing. Once that decision is made, it is easy to figure out what to buy get next to move to the next step.

For the beginner grower, you need the following at a minimum:

  • Identify the strain your want to grow

Indica, Sativa or a hybrid version; these three varieties also have different advantages and challenges when it comes to growing , some do well under the sun, other do well in cold weather while some hybrids have been developed with shorter cycle in mind (3 months) which makes them suitable for hobby growers.

  • Nutrients or fertilizers

For the strain you choose, identify the right nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium – NPK) combination. If you can find them organic like from compost, it would be better. Otherwise, the people you buy your plants from will usually tell you what to use to help them grow.

  • Indoor or Outdoor

If growing indoor, you will need to invest in a lighting, ventilation, watering, temperature control and nutrient distribution system depending on the size of your indoor farm.

For outdoor grower, once you have your garden ready, you got to consider the right strain for your climate, get some “A” grade soil, and decide whether seeds or clone, depending on location and wind condition, your plants may require additional support to stay up.

When to harvest

For harvesting, timing is the key. Once again, it is very important to know the strain you are growing because different strain may have different cycles and too early or too late harvesting WILL have an impact on the cannabinoids content of your cannabis. Recreational cannabis users like having a higher concentration of THC while medical cannabis users tend to go for a higher CBD content. Waiting too long before harvesting tends to reduce the THC content.

cannabis harvesting

Some practical signs that it is time to harvest are:

  • Some big leaves turn yellow
  • Intense smell
  • Flowers are sticky on touch
  • 60% to 70% of the pistils curl in

Curing and drying medical cannabis

After harvesting, it is very important to let the buds cure and dry under the right conditions of temperature (60° – 70°F) and humidity (45% – 55%). This process allows getting the best cannabinoids content in the buds. If the right process is not followed properly, there is a risk for the cannabinoids and terpenes to degrade into less potent cannabinoids and eventually, mold to attack your cannabis destroying the result of months of work. After proper curing, drying and conservation in an air tight container in a dark place, your cannabis can lost up to 2 years with no major degradation of the cannabinoids.

Cannabis buds in jars

Follow these few steps to dry and cure your medical cannabis:

There are many ways to cure and dry your medical cannabis such as dry-ice cure, freeze dry or water cure but for beginners, it is safe to use a simpler method that would bring the best result with less hassle.

  • – After harvesting, leave about a foot of the leaves free branch attached to the buds
  • – Hang the buds with the short branch in a dark room at a temperature between 60°-70°F and 45 – 55% humidity to preserve the flavour and aroma. An A/C and good ventilation system might be required to maintain these conditions.
  • – After about 5 to 15 days depending on strain, when the branches become breakable, it is a sign that the buds are dry and are ready to cure
  • – Trim the branches and confirm that the buds are completely dry to prevent mold build up. If necessary give it a few more drying days on a rack
  • – Place your buds in an air tight jar without overfilling it and store the jar in a cool, dry and dark place
  • – Every day during the first week, open the jar for a few minutes to let the buds breathe. After the first week, do this every other day
  • – After 2 to 8 weeks, the cannabis should be cured. Some strains may require longer.

Testing your production Quality, purity and concentration

Lab Test

We will not go into many details on this topic because this is done by third party labs all available from the government or on the internet; however, we would like to stretch out the fact that being able to provide labs results of the cannabis one brings to the market is becoming a major factor in the buying decision for many prospects. Poor timing on harvesting and bad curing and drying process can lead to a degradation of the cannabinoids.

CONCLUSION

In this post we tried our best to present both growing options for beginners while trying to keep the article in a reasonable size. We presented the whole process starting from the registration process, the growing phase including all the necessary equipment, the safety, the harvesting, drying, curing and storing and we hope that this article will inspire many and give them the courage to take on this challenge. While things may not work out as plan at the beginning, it is important to follow the process and keep refining the steps where one thinks he or she came short and eventually one will get better at it.