- Health Canada’s consultation period on edibles ended Wednesday
- Dossage size and packaging among industry’s biggest concerns
- Some in industry would prefer to outsource testing in order to enhance public confidence
In writing the second round of rules governing legal marijuana, Rob McIntyre is hoping Canadian regulators can avoid repeating past mistakes.
Wednesday marked the deadline for submissions on draft regulations Health Canada published in December for cannabis-laced foods, drinks and vape products. Mr. McIntyre, CEO of Nanaimo, B.C.-based Salvation Botanicals, says the government erred last October by imposing too many restrictions on legal recreational cannabis – allowing the illegal market to persist – and is at risk of doing so again if Health Canada fails to relax its initially proposed standards before the final rules take effect on or before next Oct. 17.
“Health Canada’s past has been to overregulate and then dial it back and I think that is what we are seeing with [edibles] as well,” Mr. McIntyre told Cannabis Professional. “We are seeing them being overly cautious with the intention that they will start to dial it back to get some effective regulations [but] I am very hopeful that the final stage of this consultation process, which is actually listening and incorporating changes, I am hoping it is better with the edibles phase then it was with the October 17th  regulations.”
Among the areas where he and others argue Health Canada is being overly cautious include limits on dosage size and packaging requirements. The draft rules say food products cannot contain more than 10 milligrams of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and must be packaged individually in separate, child-resistant containers.
Industry observers say the proposed packaging rules would be similar to requiring consumers of alcohol to purchase 40 single-ounce bottles of whiskey instead of a single 40-ounce bottle. Higher THC limits and less packaging requirements, Mr. McIntyre says, are critical to ensuring legal edibles, drinks and vape cartridges can compete with the illegal versions of those products, which have long been widely available in Canada.
“The fact of the matter is, we are not talking about creating a market, we are talking about legitimizing a market and the gaps are being filled right now by the grey market,” Mr. McIntyre said. “The higher doses are being produced right now, but all of that revenue is in the [illegal] market.”
SCS Consulting, which works with some of the country’s largest producers of food and beverage products, submitted 20 recommendations to Health Canada. While the 10 mg-per-unit limit is reasonable, the submission written by SCS president Brian Sterling recommends the term “serving” be used and that a single package be allowed to contain multiple servings.
“Prohibiting the packaging of more than one unit per package is neither commercially reasonable nor scientifically justified,” Mr. Sterling wrote, adding most jurisdictions with legal cannabis markets in the United States place per-package THC limits ranging from 100 mg to 200 mg on cannabis edibles.
Health Canada’s draft regulations also ban companies from branding their products similarly to existing alcohol brands, such as cannabis-infused beer or wine. That proposed rule “is substantially over-reaching stated concerns about consumers ingesting alcohol and cannabis together,” wrote Mr. Sterling.
Hill Street Beverage Company, a producer of alcohol-free beer and wine, has “invested significant resources into researching the anticipated market [for cannabis-infused, alcohol-free beer and wine], developing partnerships and planning production capabilities,” the Toronto-based company says in its own submission to Health Canada. In July, 2018, Hill Street struck a deal with Kelowna, B.C.-based Lexaria Bioscience to develop a line of cannabis-infused beverages, and two months later, the company applied for a cannabis processor license.
Hill Street recommends Health Canada regulate cannabis-infused beverages similarly to alcohol. That includes permitting multiple forms such as six-packs or 750ml corked bottles and allowing any retail or food service location authorized for alcohol sales to sell cannabis-infused beverages as well.
One element of the draft regulations that consumers might never notice has to do with testing requirements. The proposed rules would allow producers to test their own products, but Salvation’s Mr. McIntyre says that represents another opportunity for Health Canada to learn the lessons of history, citing pesticide-related cannabis product recalls that ended after Health Canada stopped allowing cultivators to conduct their own pesticide testing.
“The ability for a producer to test themselves, we think leaves gaps, history has kind of shown us that when the producer is also the gatekeeper,” Mr. McIntyre said. “I wouldn’t want to see us follow the same system where we wait until there is a problem before we address it.”