More than a year after recreational cannabis first went on sale in Canada, consumers will finally be able to buy edibles, concentrates, and vape pens in mid-to-late December 2019.
Health Canada on June 14, 2019, released the final version of the regulations meant to control what the government calls “additional cannabis product.”
The new regulations don't kick in until Oct. 17, 2019, the anniversary of Canada's nationwide legalization. The Cannabis Act requires that producers give the government 60 days notice before they are allowed to sell any new products. As a result, the soonest any edibles and concentrates could go on sale is Dec. 16, 2019.
Consumers likely will see a “small diversity” of edible products in this second phase of legalization. Only the products that producers are able to get out the door will be available, government officials predict, with more coming online as time goes on.
“Between now and December 2019, the licensed industry will need to decide what new products they will want to produce and build their inventory,” said one government official in a technical briefing about the regulations on June 14, 2019.
The long-awaited release of the regulations sets into motion broader access to cannabis products that could greatly increase the customer base, and the revenues, of the cannabis industry. According to one recent estimation by Deloitte, the market for edibles could grow into a CA$1.6 billion (US$1.2 billion) industry.
“Generally speaking, I think it's fantastic,” Terry Donnelly, CEO of Hill Street Beverages, told Weedmaps News after the regulations were released. “We now have an edibles industry that launches on a particular date. Is it perfect? No, it's not perfect, but it's a good starting point.”
Donnelly took issue with the strict regulations for branding and packaging. The amount of brand information on the package is restricted to one logo, and much of the space must be used for government-mandated health warnings. Critics have complained about the packaging rules since the start legalization, calling them “overly restrictive.”
Donnelly said the legal market needs to be able to compete with the unregulated market to succeed. “Some of the black-market packaging is incredibly compelling,” he said. “The legal market should be creating brands that people should trust, and that allows [them] to build a relationship with the brand.”
Others have criticized the regulations for what they see as a slight to medical users.
“Unfortunately, this is another example of the government taking steps to make it easier to get high and not to get well,” said the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), in a statement to Weedmaps News. “There is currently a glaring gap in the market for Canadians who want access to CBD [cannabidiol] for its non-intoxicating health benefits, and for Canada's safe and reputable natural health products industry, who are ready and willing to meet these market demands.”
Dan Demers, vice-president of the CHFA, had hoped that the edibles regulations would carve out space for CBD-based products. “If Canadians want to buy CBD, why aren't we letting our Canadian companies sell into the Canadian market?” he told Weedmaps News. “For us, from a pure health perspective, we just want to make sure there's a pathway forward.”
Edibles will be sold through existing channels, which differ by province and territory. Edibles will be available to consumers who are of legal buying age in their respective provinces and territories, and they can be purchased at retail outlets and online.
Provinces and territories, however, will be able to set some of their own regulations in terms of where they can be sold and consumed. They could choose, for example, to allow consumption lounges where edibles are sold.
Canada Caps Edibles' Strength
The regulations impose strict limits on the potency of these new classes of products, however. Each package of edibles will be able to contain only up to 10 milligrams of THC, regardless of how many pieces are in the package.
“You're restricted to 10 milligrams in a package, Whether you have one cookie or 10 cookies, the limit is 10 milligrams per package,” government officials explained.
That potency cap was criticized when it was proposed in draft versions of the regulations. At the time, users pointed out that many people who use cannabis for medical purposes require stronger doses than 10 milligrams. Donnelly, however, is taking the cap in stride. “I think it's perfectly fine,” said Donnelly. “I think the 10-milligram cap is safe for consumers.”
Restrictions on Flavors and Ingredients
The new regulations for edibles include strict controls designed to prevent accidental or excessive ingestion — or tempt children's curiosity. Edibles will be subject to the same stringent packaging requirements as every other cannabis product — plain packaging that's child-resistant and which displays a prominent warning from Health Canada. The packaging also must not be “appealing to children.”
Yet the regulations leave a fair amount to interpretation. While U.S. states such as Washington take a more prescriptive approach, providing guidelines to edibles producers about what shapes, colors, and designs are out of bounds, the Canadian government offers no hard guidelines.
“It has to be on a case-by-base basis. […] We're not in the world of prescribing to the industry what or how to design their gummies, and what color they should be, and so on,” said a government official with Health Canada on Friday's conference call briefing. “This is the line: Your product cannot be appealing to a young person. […] You can be innovative, you can be competitive, you can design your product and imagine it however you want to imagine it, provided that you do not cross that line.”
When it comes to concentrates, Health Canada will impose a cap of 1,000 milligrams of THC in a single package. The limit will apply to extracts including shatter, wax, hash, and other concentrates. Vape pens — another highly anticipated product — will be subject to the same 1000-milligram limit, and will not be permitted to use sugars, colors, or sweeteners to enhance the vapor.
Treat CBD as a Health Product?
Health Canada is also considering regulating CBD as a health product.
“A number of stakeholders have expressed a desire to see the regulatory framework for CBD change so that it could be used as an ingredient in therapeutic products or health products,” said one Health Canada official. “What Health Canada has committed to do is to hold consultations on that precise question.”
Health Canada wasn't able to provide an expected timeline for CBD, however.
In conjunction with making edibles available to consumers, Health Canada will also be rolling out a wider education campaign aimed at reminding Canadians to moderate their use. Their message? A classic reminder for anyone taking an edible: “Start low and go slow.”