Canada’s Edibles Market Gets Off to a Slow Start
Want to listen to this article for FREE?
Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.
Canada’s legal cannabis product offerings expanded this week, with cannabis edibles, vape products, and other cannabis derivatives finally going on sale to the general public.
But, just as the country saw when it legalized cannabis flower fourteen months ago, the rollout of these ‘Cannabis 2.0’ products looks set to be a slow process, hampered by delays and strict regional regulations.
Canada’s rules for Cannabis 2.0
When Canada legalized first recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018, the legal product offerings were restricted to fresh or dried cannabis flower, cannabis oils, and cannabis plants and seeds. At the time, the federal government said that cannabis edibles and other products containing cannabis concentrates would become legal the following year, on or before Oct. 17, 2019.
True to their word, cannabis edibles became legal to buy this October, with law-abiding cannabis producers able to legally submit their product proposals to Health Canada from Oct. 17. However, the approval process for proposed products would take several months, meaning that it has taken until now for any products to hit the shelves.
“I worked as an advisor for the federal task force [charged with implementing legalization] and we actually suggested the two-phase rollout, because edibles and concentrates involve a different set of regulatory challenges,” said Steve Rolles, senior policy analysts at Transform Drugs Policy Foundation, to Analytical Cannabis.
“I think that was wise. Regulating foods that contain drugs is not something that the Canadian government or any government has a great deal of experience with. It's quite a novel concept.”
Under the new ‘Cannabis 2.0’ rules, there is a 10 milligram THC limit per package of solid and drinkable edibles. In practice, this limit means that one can or one serving size of the edible product must contain 10 mg or less of THC.
For ingestible extracts, there is also a cap of 1000 mg of THC allowed per package, in addition to the 10 mg THC per serving limit. For topicals, such as cannabis-infused skin creams, there is also a maximum limit of 1000 mg THC per package.
As a more general rule, these cannabis products aren’t allowed to contain nicotine or alcohol and can’t appeal to children. These rules also extend to product packaging, which should be fairly plain without any elements associated with alcohol. A cannabis-infused drink, for example, can’t market itself as a cannabis margarita.
“I think some of the experiences in the US states, they probably went too far,” Rolles continued. “The market for edibles in Colorado, for example, was probably too open too early, and there were problems with cannabis-infused candies that children were eating.”
“These are fairly obvious bumps in the road that I think central regulators would have avoided if they’d taken a more measured, cautious approach. But hopefully that is what Canada is doing – we’ll wait and see what happens.”
Quebec tightens restrictions, as other provinces expect slow rollout
While the new products can now be sold nationwide from this week, the practical rollout of these products to retail outlets in each of Canada’s provinces is expected to be quite slow, with products arriving on shelves at different times.
Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Newfoundland are all fairly quick movers, with the first cannabis edibles beginning to appear on shelves and online as early as December 16. A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation has confirmed to Vice that the province will also be among the first to release edible cannabis products for sale, with a small offering of edibles and extracts due to appear in stores from December 23, with online ordering becoming available from January 6.
Cannabis 2.0 product launch dates for Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick are less certain, with the former telling CBC that product orders have been placed with the first products due to arrive on shelves “in coming weeks,” and BNN Bloomberg reporting that the latter will “start receiving limited shipments of new products over the next few days, with more details coming later in the week.”
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, the new cannabis products aren’t expected to appear until early January.
“The early January date aligns with the schedule of shipment from licensed producers, orders from retailers, and delivery to market,” said Daffyd Roderick, director of communications for the Ontario Cannabis Store, to Vice.
Alberta looks set to be the last province to roll out the new offering of cannabis products, with a projected arrival date of mid-January.
Comparatively, Quebec’s planned launch date of January 1 looks fairly timely. But, because of strict new regulations passed by the province, the products available will be limited only to cannabis-infused drinks and ‘hash’ at first.
The regulations stipulate that the edible cannabis products available in the province “may not be sweets, confectionary, dessert, chocolate or any other product attractive to persons under 21 years of age.” This contrasts with the federal regulations, which allow cannabis-infused gummies and sweets so long as the product’s appearance and packaging is plain and deemed unappealing to children.
“It’ll be a very limited product offering (some teas and perhaps one beverage) that will increase progressively over time throughout winter and spring,” confirmed Fabrice Giguere, spokesman for the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC), in an email statement to Vice.
The SQDC has also decided to not make available cannabis vaporizers or vape products, in light of the wave of vaping-related lung injuries being seen in the United States.