OTTAWA -- Health Canada handed out nearly as many marijuana production licences in the second half of 2017 as it issued over the prior four years and new numbers show hundreds more applicants are in the final stages of approval.

The federal agency moved to streamline its approval process in May to quickly increase the country's number of producers and growing space as the government rushes toward legalization next summer.

It had approved just 44 producers in the four years prior to that announcement, but has since doled out new licences to nearly 30 marijuana companies.

Health Canada says another 208 applicants have completed the security clearance process and are in the final stage of review.

If all receive licences, that would triple the number the agency has granted to date, suggesting that previously announced measures to relax the approval process are having an effect.

Experts say the surge of approvals is likely an attempt to beef up cannabis supplies ahead of legalization, but caution that an influx of new producers can only do so much to address a supply crunch, since newly approved companies will still need time to grow crops and get their products ready for sale.