Last October was a big month for cannabis with Canada becoming the largest country to legalize adult-use marijuana. However, that legalization came with one big exception: cannabis edibles. While most Canadians became free to buy dried cannabis flower and even grow their own plants, sales of edible cannabis products were kept strictly illegal.
Exactly one year later, that’s set to change. On Oct. 17, 2019, cannabis edibles will become legal in Canada. But if you’re planning to line up at your local cannabis store to purchase legal marijuana-infused lollipops, cookies or gummy bears, you may want to reconsider. This is because, while cannabis edibles will be legal, they may also be tightly regulated. And it’s causing a lot of controversy.
Let’s look at what the federal government is proposing and why edibles regulation is proving to be a touchy subject.
Cannabis Edibles, Like Any Food, Require Regulation
While there were plenty of critics of the government’s decision to not legalize edibles last October, it did make sense at the time. Most Canadians want to know that the products they eat, including cannabis edibles, are grown and processed according to regulations. After all, ensuring that food facilities operate according to established good practices means folks can be confident that what they eat is safe.
Another issue calling for regulation is that cannabis edibles can be much more potent than that of smoked cannabis. The tragic recent case of a man in New Brunswick highlights the potential dangers of unregulated cannabis edibles. That man, who had a history of heart problems, consumed a cannabis lollipop and afterwards suffered a fatal heart attack. The lollipop reportedly contained 90 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is more than 12 times the amount in an average joint.
Because people can consume edibles fairly quickly before the effects of the THC set in, it’s not immediately apparent how strong of a dose they’ve consumed; it typically takes at least 45 minutes and sometimes as long as two or three hours after eating an edible to feel its effects.
While the case of the New Brunswick man is extremely rare, it does show why regulations for edibles—like guidelines and labelling requirements for THC limits—are important.
The government also wants to ensure that children aren’t confusing cannabis edibles for regular, nonmedicated candies and sweets. Again, this is sensible given that many edibles like lollipops, gummy bears and brownies can easily appeal to young children.
So, there should certainly be regulations that help distinguish cannabis edibles from foods that are safe for children.
Health Canada Places Tight Restrictions on Edible Cannabis
Given the strong case for some form of regulation, here’s what Health Canada is proposing:
- A maximum of 10 mg of THC per package or container
- A limit to how much caffeine an edible could contain, and edibles won’t be allowed to feature:
- Added vitamins
- Edibles packages that are plain unappealing to children and child resistant
- The label on an edibles package must also show:
- THC/CBD content
- An ingredients list
- What allergens, if any, are present
- The product’s nutritional facts table
- A health warning message
- A standardized symbol to indicate that the product contains cannabis
- Canadians will be allowed to carry 30 g of edibles in public, which is the current limit for dried cannabis
Right now, these proposals are just proposals. A 60-day public consultation recently ended, and Health Canada will take the feedback it has received to come up with a final set of regulations. The agency has until Oct. 17, 2019—when edibles will be legal—to finalize these regulations.
Critics Say Rules on Edibles Are Overly Restrictive
The proposed regulations have met with a great deal of backlash from cannabis industry insiders. The biggest issue is with the 10 mg of THC limit per package. Other places where adult-use cannabis is legal, like Colorado and Washington State, have placed a 10 mg of THC limit per serving rather than per package.
This difference is important, because a package can contain multiple servings. So, for instance, if a package contained just one brownie, that brownie could contain only up to 10 mg of THC. But if a package contained five lollipops, then each lollipop could only have a maximum of 2 mg of THC.
Health Canada says the per package limits are designed to prevent accidental overdoses. But critics say this attitude is highly patronizing.
Those against the proposed packaging regulations also point out that the rules encourage wastefulness. If a company wanted to sell cookies that contain 10 mg of THC each, they’d have to package each cookie individually. That, critics say, is going to lead to a lot of unnecessary plastic and other waste filling up landfills. This could be avoided if Health Canada adopted a per serving THC limit instead of a per package one.
Many in the industry are also concerned about the overly broad prohibition against products that appeal to children. Since Health Canada hasn’t provided much guidance on what it considers to be appealing to children, the prohibition is a massive grey area. The agency has said that sugars and chocolate are acceptable, but ingredients, flavours, shapes and colours that appeal to youth aren’t.
How Will the Underground Cannabis Edibles Market Respond?
Taking cannabis out of the illicit market and making it legitimate has long been one of the main reasons the government has given for legalizing marijuana. But Health Canada’s strict proposed regulations mean that the underground edibles market is likely to remain robust even after edibles are legal.
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The regulations may be well meaning. But if they’re strictly enforced, such as banning products that may be too appealing to children, then it seems natural that consumers will look for the cannabis edibles they want and need in the underground market.
Hopefully, now that Health Canada has received feedback from the public about its proposed regulations, it will consider loosening them to better accommodate what consumers expect when they can buy legal marijuana edibles in October.
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