The cannabis edibles market in Canada officially opened on Dec. 17, 2019. Products were legalized in October, but a 60-day premarket notification window kept them off store shelves until now.
This new market is valued at an estimated 2.7 billion Canadian dollars annually, and it creates new possibilities for product innovation and consumer choice. Those who prefer not to smoke cannabis will now have plenty of options for alternative ways to consume it.
These edibles will start showing up in a variety of forms and are sure to be a boon for the Canadian economy. Before you rush to grab those gummies, though, be sure you're fully informed on the latest regulations and quality requirements.
Regulating the Edibles Market
Companies residing in most provinces can expect to follow federal regulations for the new edibles, but Quebec and Newfoundland will vary slightly.
The updated regulations stipulate cannabis edibles cannot be manufactured in the same facility as non-cannabis food products, and they can only contain ingredients otherwise permitted as foods or food additives. They cannot be fortified with caffeine, vitamins, or minerals, and they may not contain ethyl alcohol above 0.5% of the product weight. The products must be shelf-stable and labeled in the same way as non-cannabis items, including a nutrition facts table.
Overall, these edibles fall under two categories: beverages (e.g., teas, nonalcoholic beverages, and other drinks) and solid edibles (e.g., cannabis-infused butter and gummies). Concentrates such as vapes, shatter, hash, and dabs are also allowed, although Newfoundland and Labrador are not currently permitting the sale of vapes. The list of currently prohibited items in Quebec includes sweets, confectionery, desserts, chocolates (e.g., brownies and cookies), chips, and topicals (e.g., creams, salves, and balms).
Limits on tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, concentration are product specific. There is no federal limit to the amount of THC allowed in cannabis concentrates, but there will be a 30% THC limit on concentrates in Quebec. Nevertheless, there is a federally established limit of 1,000 mg of THC per container for concentrated cannabis extract products. Per Health Canada regulations, THC is restricted to 10 milligrams per package for food and beverage items federally — the restriction is 5 milligrams per package in Quebec. Cannabis extracts, lotions, and other topical products are capped at 1,000 milligrams per container.
Protecting Consumers With Restrictions and Transparency
You'll start to find products such as CBD-infused spring water and mints containing THC on shelves this week, but more products will trickle into the market over the next year as companies roll out their edible and topical lines. Before you purchase these items, it's helpful to be aware of what to watch for on packaging and labels.
Health Canada is imposing several packaging restrictions, which are designed to mitigate accidental consumption or overconsumption and to prevent children from accessing them. For instance, companies are limited to plain packaging in child-resistant containers and cannot use the labels "beer" or "wine" to describe any beverages. Full details on packaging and labeling requirements are available through Health Canada.
Any company manufacturing products containing cannabis will require a license from Health Canada and must abide by these regulations — including controls on production, product formulation, testing, and quality standards.
One of the major reasons behind the introduction of a regulated marketplace for cannabis was to ensure consumers are able to access high-quality, safe products. There's also hope that legal products will displace the illegal market, meaning cannabis will be subject to greater scrutiny and traceability.
Companies at every stage of the supply chain — whether during cultivation, manufacturing, or sales — are subject to licensing and required to report directly to the government. This source-to-shelf traceability allows for oversight of supply and quality while facilitating easier tracking of consumer complaints or reports of adverse events. It also makes product recalls easier to initiate, if necessary.
Consuming Edibles Safely
If you're unfamiliar with edible cannabis — or inexperienced with cannabis in general — you should know that edibles are different from other cannabis products. The effects of ingestible cannabis can be delayed compared with other modes of consumption, so you should be prepared for this and limit the initial amount you consume. Despite government regulations about potency, it could be easy for a novice to consume too many edibles while waiting for the effects to take hold.
The extraction method involved also plays a significant role in safety, and you should understand the best modern methods to ensure that anything you buy meets those standards. Older techniques employed volatile organic solvents such as butane or propane.
Newer methods common to foods, pharmaceuticals, and natural health products may involve supercritical carbon dioxide or ethanol extraction — they also result in little to no residual solvent and a lower health risk. These safer extraction methods may also be conducted at lower temperatures, which can preserve the profile of the molecules present naturally in the cannabis plant and result in more diverse extracts.
The Cannabis Act was created with safety in mind. In other words, it will help protect youths, make criminal behavior less profitable, and increase public health. What's more, greater access to information and improved regulatory standards should lead to better consumer experiences and a thriving market. Now that the updated regulation has taken effect, it's an exciting time for the cannabis industry and consumers in Canada.