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Cannabis Feds defend barring edible cannabis for a year as black market eyes gaps

Part of cannabis laws and regulations

The Liberal government is aware the massive black market for marijuana is banking on the appeal of products like cookies, tablets and vape pens but it defends waiting another year to green light these items for the legal market.

Canada became the first G7 country to legalize cannabis for recreational use Wednesday but it opted to limit purchases to dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from government-licensed retailers.

Canadians can also make cannabis products, such as food and drinks, for personal use.

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Federal officials, meantime, are coming up with draft regulations on “new classes” of cannabis with the goal of finishing them by the end of the year. Consultations will follow and officials hope to have everything finalized by next October.

Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said Thursday the government realizes Canadians may turn to the illicit market in the interim for edibles and high-potency products – they already do.

But he said it is important to move ahead carefully due to “significant complexities and risks.”

“Part of the problem is, depending on how they are produced, packaged and sold, people have no idea the potency of what they’re taking,” Blair said in an interview.

Police, for their part, are watching to see how the black market evolves now that recreational cannabis use is legal.

City of Ottawa police said Thursday laws applicable to the sale and distribution of illegal products will be enforced, adding officers are aware of retail outlets that operate outside the law.

NDP health critic Don Davies said the exclusion of edibles, concentrates and non-smokable products amounts to a “glaring hole” in the legal marijuana market, noting these forms are favoured among consumers.

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“From a health perspective, not legalizing it was wrong,” he said. “From a market point of view, it is wrong.”

Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, agreed Thursday the exclusion amounts to a policy gap but he said it is an intentional one.

The federal government drew lessons from American jurisdictions that legalized marijuana and encouraged Canada to proceed slowly, MacPherson said.

“Now the pressure is on to get this other significant piece of the market under a regulatory framework because it is a huge part of the market,” he said.

“The cannabis horse has been out of the barn for so long it is going to take a while to get it back in, if that’s possible.”

Anne McLellan, a former Liberal cabinet minister and head of a federally appointed marijuana task force, said her panel would have liked to see edibles legalized on Wednesday.

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“With organized crime, you take one line of work away from them and they will find another,” she said Thursday in an interview. “They will go where there is a market demand.”

She said, however, she accepts the government’s concerns.

“They want to get this piece right,” she said. “It is a complicated piece.”

McLellan’s task force reported it was concerned by an increase in cases of children accidentally eating cannabis-laced products in American states where the drug is legal.

“We acknowledge that a lack of regulation contributed to this risk,” the report said.

“Should edibles be allowed for legal sale in Canada, they should, at a minimum, conform to the strictest packaging and labelling requirements for edibles currently in force in U.S. states.”

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