In less than two weeks, Canadians will be able to buy and consume recreational cannabis legally.
Choosing from several different strains, they’ll buy their marijuana from government-run or private retail stores, or from online dispensaries, depending on where they live. They’ll be able to light up at home or wherever they can smoke tobacco, according to rules set forth by each province and territory.
And Canadian’s anticipated consumption of cannabis products doesn’t stop there.
A report released by Deloitte last June claims that there’s an “explosion of interest” in marijuana edibles. This includes infused candies, beverages, ice cream and baked goods. Deloitte projects that edibles will become a large part of the of $4.3 billion Canadian cannabis market, where an estimated six out of 10 people will eventually enjoy marijuana in this form.
One problem though. Cannabis edibles, concentrates (including those used for vaping) and topicals will remain illegal come Oct. 17. Anyone who wants to consume these forms of cannabis will have to so the old way—through the black market.
Health Canada says it wants to make sure these forms of cannabis are safe for consumers before they’re allowed. The government has worries, for example, that concentrates may be too powerful for people to handle.
It also has concerns that the manufacturing processes for some of these products may yield harmful chemicals. So it wants more studies into how to properly regulate their production before it’ll allow them to become legal.
But proponents of legalization point out that if Canada wants to kill black market marijuana sales like it claims, it has to offer the same range of products. Otherwise, people will continue to turn to the illicit market for those marijuana products that they want and need.
This month, after learning that cannabis edibles may not be approved until a year after legalization, NDP MP Don Davis said: “There is no reason whatsoever to go slow on this, because there’s nothing that we’re going to be learning in the next year about these products that we don’t know now. While we wait 12 months, Canadians are still going to be getting edibles, but they’re going to be getting it from sources that are completely unregulated.”
Companies Are Already Creating Cannabis Edibles in Prep for Their Legalization in 2019
The irony in talking about the health risks of edibles is that a large number of people point out that eating cannabis may pose fewer health risks than smoking the plant does.
An Ipsos poll conducted last year revealed that three out of 10 Canadians were interested in trying marijuana edibles when they became legal. Women, young people and nonsmokers are particularly partial to marijuana in this form.
A spokesperson for Canadian minister of health Ginette Petitpas Taylor gave this group some hope when he wrote in an email: “We will have a consultation in the fall, and we will adopt the regulations for edibles in 2019.”
In anticipation of cannabis edible legalization in mid-2019, cannabis companies are already looking at producing different types of edibles including:
- Cannabis-infused iced teas
- Marijuana juices
- Infused sports drinks
And while marijuana brownies, cookies and sweet treats should be common, people are already thinking about more sophisticated culinary uses of the plant, including:
- Cannabis-infused meat marinades
- Marijuana-infused salad dressings
- Healthy green cannabis smoothies
Government Ban on Cannabis Concentrates May Push People to the Black Market
Cannabis concentrates are typically oils and waxes made from the cannabis plant. As the name suggests, they’re processed in such a way as to concentrate the cannabinoids and terpenes while eliminating excess plant material and other impurities.
One big concern is the high level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in concentrates—60–80%, compared to about 10–25% in the average marijuana buds. Canadian lawmakers are concerned that consumers, particularly new ones, will be put at risk by how much of the psychoactive ingredient concentrates have. Overdoing it on THC can cause anxiety attacks or other kinds of psychological distress.
The government has safety concerns about the manufacturing process of concentrates, too, which often involve using butane and other hazardous chemicals to extract THC from the cannabis flower. This has sometimes led to fatal explosions and often leaves traces of harmful chemicals in the final product.
However, there are concentrates companies in the U.S. that employ nonchemical extraction methods with water or heat. So, it’s possible to create a healthier, chemical-free marijuana concentrate.
But again, by not allowing legal concentrate sales sooner rather than later, the government is risking giving illegal producers a boost. “If the government's mandate is to protect children and stamp out the black market, this is the single biggest gift that the government could give the black market,” insists Josh Campbell, president of the vape manufacturer Dosist.
Vaping proponents also point out that it’s much easier to get a specific dose of cannabis ingesting a concentrate, as opposed to smoking marijuana. To get a sense of the potential demand for vaping, just look to the U.S., where in California in 2016, cannabis vape cartridges accounted for a quarter of all marijuana sales.
Health Canada Wants to Put Regulations in Place Before Cannabis Topicals Are Legalized
Cannabis topicals—creams, salves and balms—applied to the skin can alleviate a variety of conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. Currently, these skin treatments are only available if a patient is approved by a doctor and Health Canada.
And even then, the cannabis topical isn’t ready off the shelf. Patients must mix a cannabis oil with a carrier cream themselves to create their own DIY topical.
Despite growing consumer interest in topicals, over-the-counter, nonprescription sales are at least a year away. Health Canada told the CBC that topical marijuana products can pose health and safety concerns. In their view, regulations need to be put into place to control the use of ingredients known as allergens or skin irritants.
In a statement, Health Canada said developing such regulations for new cannabis products can be a “complex undertaking and there are unique potential health risks and harms that need to be carefully understood before” legalization occurs.
It adds, "For this reason, the Government of Canada will need to take an appropriate amount of time to develop and implement regulations that will result in safe cannabis products eventually coming to market."
In the meantime, the black market will be more than happy to fill in the gap.
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