David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.
In December, the federal government released draft regulations around the production and sale of edible cannabis products and launched a consultation period for industry and the public that ends Feb. 20. Ottawa’s goal is to gather feedback that will guide it in efforts to minimize health and safety risks.
However, by naming the consultation period the “Strict Regulation of Edible Cannabis, Extracts and Topicals” the government has essentially tipped its hand to some major holes in its proposed regulatory framework.
The first major issue with the edible regulations is the 10-milligram/THC per-package limit on edible products, which means consumers won’t be able to purchase edibles in bulk. Rather than have a 10mg per-package limit, the limitation should be 10mg a unit or serving, with multiple servings permitted within a single package. Having a limit of 10mg a unit would serve the government’s goal of trying to prevent overconsumption, while still allowing for consumers to purchase products in bulk when convenient.
A limit of 10mg a unit would also bring Canada in line with jurisdictions such as Colorado when it comes to edible regulations. Not making this change will mean that edible products will be insanely overpackaged, just like the packaging requirements for dried cannabis products. All that aside, there is still a looming question as to why a limit needs to exist in the first place. Simply look at alcohol content restrictions and it becomes quite clear that there is an obvious double standard at play here.
The second major issue with the new proposed regulations is the revised personal carry limit for these newly legal products. The new maximum package size and personal carry limit will be 7.5 grams. From a consumer’s perspective, this makes a bad law worse, given that the penalty for violating this can be upward of five years in prison. When we consider that other substances don’t have personal carry limits, it’s questionable whether cannabis should have a limit at all.
The existence of a carry limit could also have some serious criminal-justice and social-justice implications. We know that cannabis possession fines and arrests disproportionately effected minorities in Canadian during the lead up to legalization. We also know from U.S. data that cannabis offences in states where cannabis is legal are disproportionately applied to black and latino Americans. The existence, and further complication, of a personal carry limit will most likely affect marginalized communities the most, just as the war on drugs has.
The third issue is that the new regulations maintain, for the most part, the government’s silly plain-packaging and branding restrictions. This means that edibles, extracts and topicals will have almost no branding and will have neutral packaging. The purpose of maintaining this is to try and discourage use. The problem with this approach is that brands convey knowledge to consumers. Branding helps consumers better understand the taste, impact and overall experience of a product. Branding matters, especially for cannabis products, because most consumers are new to cannabis. Branding allows for companies to convey information and knowledge to consumers, which increases the likelihood that consumers make appropriate and informed decisions for themselves. Just as with personal carry limits, the regulatory structure for alcohol regarding branding shows another giant double standard. There is no rational reason why cannabis branding and packaging should be more limited than products that contain alcohol. Regulating cannabis in this way is incredibly paternalistic and completely disregards the continuum of risk between alcohol and cannabis.
Beyond what is written in the draft regulations, there are also issues with what the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation recommended be put into the regulations. For example, the task force has suggested that cannabis edibles should be prohibited from mimicking, or looking like, regular food items. If taken at face value, this would mean that items such as cookies, brownies or any other confectionery, would be prohibited. If adopted, this would be just another example of the government overstepping when it comes to how it treats adult consumers.
Waiting a year to legalize edibles, extracts and topicals was bad public policy from the perspective of harm reduction. These forms of consumption are much less risky than smoking cannabis. Now that these new products are soon to become legal, it unfortunately looks as if the federal government is destined to make what are glaring policy errors, all at the expense of adult consumers.