The head of Canada's largest medical marijuana producer said he is in favour of a system where companies would have to test their products for safety – and make those lab results public – to earn back the trust of patients amid a tainted cannabis scare.
Bruce Linton, chief executive officer of Canopy Growth Corp., said he would have no problem producing lab data to show that the product is free of pesticides and other chemicals, and said his company is already holding internal discussions on how to do it.
The move comes after three federally licensed medical marijuana companies were caught selling products containing a dangerous banned pesticide called myclobutanil. The chemical, used to eliminate mildew, is prohibited on plants that are smoked because it produces hydrogen cyanide when heated, which can lead to serious respiratory problems and other health concerns.
The revelation has raised serious questions about Health Canada's oversight of the sector, since the government recently revealed that it hadn't been testing any of the 38 licensed producers for banned chemicals, and instead was taking the companies at their word.
With the industry's credibility now under fire – as patients come forward complaining of severe nausea, difficulty breathing and persistent lung problems – Saskatoon-based CanniMed Therapeutics has stepped forward this week and pledged to make its testing data public, to show patients its products are safe.
Canopy, which represents about 40 per cent of the medical market, likes the idea, Mr. Linton said. "We're supportive of that," he told The Globe on Friday. "It's all about confidence. I don't think there's any hurdles to doing it, it's just how do you do it properly?"
The three companies caught with myclobutanil were Organigram Inc., Mettrum Ltd. and Aurora Cannabis Inc., which discovered the tainted product in a bulk shipment it purchased from Organigram and resold to patients.
Since then, Health Canada has attached new conditions to the licences of Mettrum and Organigram, requiring them to test all products for safety. It is also introducing random spot checks for the rest of the industry.
But with no mandated testing on all 38 companies in the sector, there is no way for consumers to know for sure whether the companies are using dangerous products to help their crops. Prior to the recent spate of recalls, each company claimed to be putting the health of their patients first, and producing trustworthy products.
Since the problem came to light, several patients have told The Globe they don't know how they can be sure if they are getting safe medicine, which is used to treat conditions including cancer pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy.
"I see it as an astonishing lack of oversight on the part of Health Canada," Dawn Rae Downton, an Organigram client who unknowingly used the tainted cannabis and is now suffering from bouts of nausea and lung problems, said recently.
Brent Zettl, chief executive officer of CanniMed, said there is no reason that companies can't be required to show their products are free of pesticides.
His company decided to proactively test four of the 12 product lots it has in storage, for 56 pesticides, and has published the results. The tests were conducted at a federally certified lab, and turned up no detectable levels of contaminants.
"Every [company] should take it very seriously that this is a medicine. … It's for the patients' safety," Mr. Zettl said. "There is nothing to say that Health Canada cannot put the onus on the [licensed producers] that you have to demonstrate that the product is safe in this regard, and just say, in a directive, you guys must test."
Canopy, which recently purchased Mettrum, has apologized for the pesticide recall and told patients the problems will be fixed. Mr. Linton said he now wants to develop a way that the company can make lab results available and understandable.
"You can put the gobbledygook out, and it's a disservice," he said. "So how are we going to do this so that it becomes a meaningful piece of information that people can make a decision with?"
Websites in some cities that track restaurant inspections and provide information on which locations are compliant are one possible option, he said.