Marijuana edibles: Is Canada on track to legalize them?

In a second wave of recreational legalization in Canada, cannabis edibles will be permitted for legal sale no later than Oct. 17, 2019, Health Canada has confirmed. And the market is up for grabs.

The edibles industry is expected to be worth $4.1 billion in Canada and the United States by 2022, according to a report by a marijuana market research company called The Arcview.

As of now, in Canada, you can make cannabis-infused food at home but it is illegal for anyone to buy and or sell them to the public.

Canada’s proposed edible pot regulations have been published by Health Canada and the 60-day consultation process has come to an end. The public health agency is now reviewing the responses.

The draft regulations

Under the proposed federal rules, a single serving would be limited to 10 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and each serving must be individually wrapped. This is considered a low to moderate dose of THC.

This dosage limit is stricter than in Colorado, Washington or California, where multiple servings are allowed per package. So for example in a chocolate bar, each breakable square can contain 10 milligrams each for a total of 100 milligrams.

Pot meant for ingestion cannot have alcohol, have limited caffeine and come in a plain, child-resistant package. The draft regulations say the products must not be appealing to youth and the packaging can’t advertise dessert or confectionery flavours — so no gummies shaped like bears.

The proposed rules are an attempt to address one of the main concerns with edibles: making sure it doesn’t pose a risk to public health, especially for those who are underage.

“In other jurisdictions, which legalized marijuana just like the states in the U.S., one of the problems, [with] legalizing edibles, were kids. So kids came into the kitchen saw this wonderful nicely coloured marijuana edible and as kids do, try it out,” said Dr. Jürgen Rehm, a senior scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH.

However, some are worried the black market will continue to thrive with such strict regulations. In California, for example, which legalized recreational marijuana and edibles last year, industry experts say the illicit market continues to boom. 

One major cannabis edibles manufacturer in California says it’s been difficult to navigate within the legal market because there is still so much competition in the illicit market.

“People that are heavy consumers of THC and like to ingest it, can ingest hundreds if not thousands of milligrams of THC in a day and so if they have products that are available in the illicit market that are much cheaper and have a higher potency, they’re going to tend to go towards that rather than paying significantly more for less THC, which is what they’ve used to consume,” Bryce Berryessa said, the president of La Vida Verde.

Berryessa says your body builds up a pretty quick tolerance when ingesting edibles. So a lot of those people who are currently used to consuming a higher amount of THC are still participating in the illegal market to get access to products with higher potencies.

Rehm who has been working on the field of mental health and cannabis consumption says it’s better to have an incremental approach when it comes to edibles.

“The problem with edible marijuana is that people are not used to it. A lot of the people once they smoke marijuana. They feel the effects pretty quickly. With edibles, the effects can be later. And people say ‘Oh, I have now done this edible marijuana and I feel nothing’ and they have more and more,” Rehm said. 

To avoid putting people at risk, it would be better to start with a low dosage and once we have clear evidence the black market is still thriving, then we can re-evaluate it, he added. 

“So with all the legislation, with all the upper limits of THC or other points, we have to be in a way so we can reap the benefits of legalization (i.e safer product and not lose some of the consumers to the black market). And frankly, I think there will be a lot of trial and error in the next one to two years.”

Health Canada confirms that they have received 7,000 responses from Canadians, industry representatives, the provinces and the public health community on the proposed edibles draft regulations. Now, the agency is reviewing the comments and considering where adjustments can be made.

Those in the marijuana industry, however, are skeptical the government will make the edibles deadline set for themselves. When it came to recreational pot, legalization was first promised on Canada day, but the actual date wasn’t for a couple of months later.

Health Canada could not comment on when we will see the updated draft but confirmed that cannabis products will be permitted for legal sale no later than Oct. 17, 2019.