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A study conducted by Dalhousie University, led by myself and Brian Sterling, in partnership with NSF International, looked at perceptions and plans of the Canadian food and beverage industry with respect to cannabis as a food ingredient. Cannabis-infused consumables may be legal next year and, according to the study, food companies are seriously considering the edibles market. A total of 294 companies were surveyed in August of this year.

Results show that fewer than 40 per cent of companies support legalization of cannabis-infused food products, while almost 65 per cent are concerned about the risks edibles represent to children and growing adults. That said, 16.4 per cent of surveyed Canadian companies confirmed that they are either planning to launch a product as soon as edibles are legal, or already serving a market with an existing product within their portfolio. But most food businesses in Canada are not considering cannabis as a potent market. The most common rationale is that cannabis is not compatible with their current product line. General lack of understanding of cannabinoids was the second most popular reason.

The survey results highlight how risk-averse the Canadian food industry currently is regarding cannabis in general. Liability risks (47.1 per cent) and reputational risks (20.1 per cent) are seen as significant deterrents. Other constraints include the lack of regulatory clarity, training of front-line staff, the stigma of cannabis itself, supply chain reliability, and tamper-proof packaging.

Clearly, regulatory questions are top-of-mind issues for most companies. Food and beverage firms are awaiting regulatory guidance as a condition of their investigations. Respondents say that governments are the key resource that they would use during product and strategy development. More than 30 per cent of respondents say governments are their primary choice, followed by internal resources. And, 45.5 per cent see government bearing the chief responsibility for addressing cannabis-infused edibles issues.

Health Canada is expected to begin industry consultations concerning cannabis consumables shortly. Until then, based on Dalhousie’s survey results, we should expect eager, yet limited interest related to these products from the food industry.