TORONTO, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- Ailing Canadians were only hours away from being able to legally buy marijuana for medical purposes on the free market, officials said Monday.
As of Tuesday, Health Canada will phase out a system of homegrown marijuana for a factory-style operation that will grow, package and distribute a variety of marijuana, the Toronto Star reported Sunday.
About 37,400 patients use medical marijuana, Health Canada says. That number is expected to rise to as many as 450,000 by 2024.
The sanctioned growers are required to raise the plants indoors and have vaults and security systems to prevent thefts of their products, which could be sold on the black market. One firm plans to initially produce 20 strains.
Recreational use of marijuana will still be banned.
Since June, 156 companies have applied for licenses. The first two were awarded last week.
Under the system being phased out, about 4,200 people were licensed to grow marijuana on their property for no more than two patients each. That type of cottage industry will now be banned. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has charged such operations were fronts for illegal activity.
The price of legal weed is expected to soon undercut the stuff sold on the streets, where it goes for about $10 a gram, or about $280 an ounce. Health Canada projects the factory-grown marijuana will retail next year for about $7.60 a gram, or $215 an ounce. Within 10 years, industry revenues are projected to reach $1.3 billion a year.
Sophie Galarneau, a senior Health Canada official, said she expects competition to eventually get the price down to $3 a gram, or about $85 an ounce.