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HIGHLIGHTS
  1. Health Canada has proposed a new category of cannabinoid products – Cannabis Health Products – that could be sold with minor medical claims without needing a doctor’s prescription.
  2. Consultations on the plan, which closed last week, attracted more than 1,100 submissions.
  3. Several industry groups want CBD to be reclassified as a Natural Health Product, not regulated as a Cannabis Health Product.

Health Canada’s proposal to introduce a new Cannabis Health Product (CHP) category is drawing criticism from industry groups for not reclassifying cannabidiol as a natural health product, and for keeping the production of the new product category in the hands of licensed cannabis producers.

The federal government has suggested bringing in a new category of cannabinoid products that could be sold with minor medical claims – for things like sleep or muscle pain – without needing a doctor’s prescription.

The proposal, outlined in a consultation document published in July, would see:

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  • CHPs sold in recreational cannabis retail stores and possibly in pharmacies, depending on provincial approval.
  • Companies would be allowed to market these products with “authorized health claims to treat minor ailments based on evidence.” That is in contrast with the current system for medical and recreational marijuna products which “cannot be sold with labels or marketed in a manner that provides information about health benefits of the product, appropriate dosing, or other information about their use as a treatment for health conditions.”
  • The approval of the products would be governed by the Food and Drugs Act, “while respecting objectives of the Cannabis Act.”

Health Canada received more than 1,100 submissions as part of a consultation on CHPs that closed last week.

The new category appears to be designed largely for CBD products, which are already widely used by Canadians for therapeutic purposes, but often acquired through the grey market. However, groups that are pushing for the liberalization of CBD regulation say the proposal suggested in the consultation process does not go far enough.

“CBD itself is non-intoxicating and it’s a natural substance, much like a herbal product. In Canada, those products should be licensed under the Natural Health Product regulations,” said Helen Long, president of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA).

“We have a framework that deals with this kind of product, why aren't we just using the framework that exists, we don't understand why they're creating a new framework and potentially causing more confusion," she said.

Regulating CBD products within the proposed CHP framework, rather than treating them like Natural Health Products (NHPs), would restrict potential sales channels for CBD. The CHFA and other organizations like the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance want health food and nutrition stores to be able to sell CBD – something which won’t be allowed under the proposed CHP framework.

"It was a kicking of the can down the road," said Ted Haney, Executive Director of the Hemp Trade Alliance, of Health Canada’s consultation and apparent decision not to move forward with CBD as an NHP.

The disappointment about the narrow scope of the consultation was felt by businesses hoping to move from the CBD grey market into the legal market, said Sherry Boodram CEO of consulting company CannDelta Inc.

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"It's still going to be licensed producers who are the ones who are going to be licensing these products for the most part; and I think people thought they'd be able to make it in their small shop, or at home and then sell it online or however else they were previously doing it illegally," Ms. Boodram said.

It makes sense to require robust scientific proof for any claims, and to require high levels of quality control, she said. But that doesn’t necessarily require all manufacturing of CBD products to stay in the hands of LPs.

"There should be a way to make other players involved, because the responsibility and the opportunity still lies with a lot of these big producers, and I think that's a huge problem that people want to be involved in the industry, but there's no real opportunity," she said.

When asked whether Health Canada would consider reclassifying CBD as a natural health product, department spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau responded by e-mail: “To respect the public health and safety objectives of the Cannabis Act, as well as the requirements under the Food and Drugs Act to ensure any cannabis health product is safe, effective and of high quality, Health Canada is proposing an evidence-based approach for these products that would ensure health claims do not promote or normalize cannabis consumption.

“Health Canada will seek external scientific advice on the appropriate level of evidence necessary to prove the safety and efficacy of cannabis health products.”

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