Canada released its highly anticipated draft regulations for weed edibles Thursday, but experts say some of the rules are overly restrictive, and risk not making enough of an impact on the black market.
Some of the highlights from the proposed rules include a limit of 10 milligrams of THC per package for edible cannabis in solid and beverage forms; a limit of 10 mg of THC per unit for ingestible extracts and 1,000 mg per package; plain, child-resistant packaging; a ban on mixing with alcohol or nicotine; and a ban on products that are appealing to kids.
VICE reached out to industry insiders and experts to gather insight on any red flags in the proposed regulations.
10 mg THC limit is too low
The government wants to set the limit of 10 mg of THC per package of edibles. For comparison, in Colorado and Washington State, there are limits of 10 mg of THC per serving size e.g. a single gummy, but a package can contain multiple servings. Many black market edibles also contain far more THC per package. The government stated that part of its rationale in drafting these rules was to limit the risks of accidental consumption and overconsumption.
“It’s patronizing to say in order to avoid over consumption, we don’t trust you to have multiple servings in one package,” Trina Fraser, an Ottawa-based lawyer who works with clients in the cannabis industry, told VICE. She said it would make more sense for the government to allow package sizes to be in line with the amount of cannabis edibles a Canadian is allowed to publicly possess—which is 450 grams for solids.
Deepak Anand, industry consultant, told VICE the 10 mg limit is going to amount to wasteful packaging “for many users who want way above that dose to give them the desired effect.”
Fraser pointed out there’s no comparable limit when it comes to booze.
“We’re just going to have to live with the fact that we’re starting from a place that is more restrictive than alcohol, even though from a risk analysis perspective, that doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Hopefully, after the initial rollout happens, there will be evidence to nudge Health Canada into loosening the rules, she said.
Toronto-based edibles producer Sarah Gilles told VICE she hopes that higher doses will be allowed for medical cannabis users. Currently, medical patients are allowed to make their own edibles, but it’s not legal to sell them aside from oils and capsules.
Ban on products appealing to kids is too broad
Under the Cannabis Act, “it is prohibited to sell cannabis or a cannabis accessory that has an appearance, shape or other sensory attribute or a function that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons.”
The draft edibles regulations also specify that no products nor packaging can appeal to children.
But Fraser said the wording of the rules means there’s a grey area.
She said we can reasonably expect a ban on something like a gummy bear, but what about other products.
“How do you make a brownie not look like a brownie? How do you make a chocolate bar not look like a chocolate bar?” she said, noting that if taste is considered a “sensory attribute,” anything that’s sweet is appealing to kids.
Gilles, who owns The Baker's Shop edibles company, said there’s a double standard with the way edibles are being regulated versus alcohol.
“In terms of flavour profiles, it’s unfortunate that they are limiting things they deem children would like as a lot of different alcohol are child-friendly flavors. It's up to the parent to also educate children that certain things are not for safe for kids,” she told VICE.
Anand said the government also needs to relax on its strict packaging and marketing requirements, which limit companies to plain packaging that contains health warnings.
“I get that it isn't ever going to be similar to what alcohol companies are permitted to do but there needs to be a happy medium between tobacco and alcohol,” he said. “Current restrictions are far too prohibitive particularly when one of the policy intentions is to eliminate the black market.”
Weed beverages should be allowed to directly compete with alcohol
Anand told VICE he takes issue with the proposed stipulation that cannabis infused drinks contain “no elements that would associate product with alcoholic beverages or
brands of alcohol.”
“It's OK to make a product look like a cigarette or tobacco product but not like alcohol? What the hell?” he said. “If we argue that cannabis is safer than alcohol we must allow for products that look like alcohol to be able to transition users of those substances onto something that's arguably safer.”
Government should head off backlogs for producers
Many argue Health Canada’s tight restrictions on licensed producers is in part what’s led to the cannabis shortages the country is currently experiencing.
Omar Khan, a cannabis consultant at Hill+KNOWLTON Strategies, told VICE Health Canada should devote additional resources to processing applications for cannabis edibles licenses.
“Otherwise it’s unclear how many products are prepared to launch when these regulations come into force by the fall of 2019,” he said, pointing out demand for edibles is expected to be huge.
A Deloitte report from June found that six out of 10 consumers are expected to choose edible cannabis products. The legal edibles industry in US states is already worth billions.
The government is accepting feedback on the proposed edibles regulations until February 20, 2019.
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