What Canada’s Legalization 2.0 Can Learn From Colorado And Washington

On June 14th, 2019, Health Canada announced that it had finalized its regulations for the production and sale of cannabis edibles in Canada.

In accordance with amendments by the federal government to the Cannabis Act, the new rules will come into effect on October 17th of this year, and will include the sale of edibles, extracts and topicals.

While the move to further legalize cannabis and make a number of new products available to consumers represents a major step forward, the framework set out by Health Canada has already drawn harsh criticism, both from those in the industry as well as from advocates.  Many feel that the new restrictions are heavy-handed and unclear, and could potentially handicap this sector of the market.

Defenders of the regulations have pointed out the necessity for public safety and preventing underage use.  While that’s no doubt true, if Canadian officials are looking for effective rules that are also conducive to a healthy edibles market, they would do well to look at a few of their American counterparts for successful regulatory models.

Cannabis Brownies
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Canada’s New Edible Laws

Many of the laws and regulations come down to what Health Canada will and will not allow. For instance, the sale of dried flower, edibles and other products will only be sold by authorized retailers. Licensed producers are required to give Health Canada a 60 day notification of their intention to sell new products.

As for details on what can and can’t be sold, all products must come in child proof packaging, and labeling restrictions are generally in line with those on flower (no flashy colors, limited logos, a clearly marked cannabis symbol, THC and CBD content, etc).

In addition to this, a number of infused products have also been prohibited, including those containing alcohol, nicotine and caffeine.  Health Canada has placed a THC restriction of 10 mg per package on all approved products.

No Cannabis/Alcohol Beverages
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One of the major sources of consternation surrounding edibles has been its potential appeal to children.  During the deliberations, a number of groups have come forward expressing their concern that products like gummies and candies may be too enticing for those under 18, with the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation even going so far as to recommend a ban on such products (a position echoed by the Canadian Paediatric Society back in March).

Because of this, restrictions on such products have been implemented.  However, details regarding what constitutes “youth appeal” have been scarce, and Health Canada will be making individual assessments based on a number of factors to determine whether or not they are compliant.

Problems With The Regulations

The official guidelines have only been made public for a short time, and already there have been a number of criticisms.

One of the main factors that the cannabis industry has taken issue with is the heavy-handedness of the restrictions.  Much like the existing flower market, excessive rules regarding everything from packaging to branding are stifling for producers hoping to stand out in what is essentially a new industry.

But there’s also the restrictiveness of what can and can’t be sold.  Infused products are a massive market south of the border.  Cannabis-infused beverages alone already represent an enormous and growing sector, and are projected to be worth $1.4 billion by 2023.

In addition, many have pointed out that a lot of these guidelines are convoluted and arbitrary.  The fact that there are no clear cut instructions regarding what does and does not constitute something that appeals to youth has left manufacturers at the mercy of Health Canada officials for each and every product they release.

Finally, there’s the issue of Quebec.  The province has released its own rules and restrictions which go far further than those set out by Health Canada.  While federal authorities will evaluate products on a case by case basis, lawmakers in Quebec have outright banned any edible products that are “sweets, confectionery, dessert, chocolate or any other product attractive to minors”.

Cannabis Confections
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What Successful States Got Right

While Canada has the benefit of fairly uniform laws across the country, the industry in the US doesn’t have that luxury.  The fact that cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug means that individual states that have legalized have had to effectively create their own rules.

While the situation may be chaotic, one of the benefits is that we’ve seen a lot of different ideas being experimented with – and the Canadian government should absolutely consider taking a look at some of the successful ones.

One of the best examples of regulation done right is Colorado.  As one of the first US jurisdictions to legalize, the state has effectively been a case study for cannabis in general.  Not only has Colorado eliminated much of the black market, but its rules and regulations for edibles provide all of the child and public safety benefits Canadian lawmakers are shooting for, without a lot of the drawbacks.

Like Canada, Colorado places restrictions on the amount of THC in a single edible serving (10 mg) and requires the THC stamp on the packaging.  They’ve also recently implemented controls on products that could potentially appeal to children, however, they’ve chosen to focus much of their attention on the presentation of the products – foods shaped like animals, humans or fruits are not allowed under the new laws.

But while Colorado officials may be strongly involved in the process, they’ve been fairly hands off when it comes to a number of product development details that their Canadian counterparts seem determined to regulate to death.  As critics have already pointed out earlier this year, Health Canada’s heavy-handed restrictions on sugars and flavoring could mean that Canadians get stuck with bland, tasteless edibles.

And while they may limit these products to 10 mg per serving, Colorado does allow multiple servings in a single package, reducing much of the environmental waste that could be caused by the excessive packaging required by Health Canada.

Colorado State Capitol Building
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Ultimately, what Colorado has done right is to successfully control critical aspects that impact health and safety, without getting into a lot of the minutiae.  This strategy not only benefits the cannabis industry (a growing source of job creation), but it also helps curb the black market, since it allows consumers to purchase high quality, innovative products legally.

Another state that’s taken a similar approach is Washington, which last year unveiled its own set of regulations on edibles. Like Colorado, much of the focus surrounds the appearance of the products – specific shapes are not allowed, and they can’t be packaged in such a way that’s appealing to children (packages must also include the THC and “Not For Kids” logo).

At the end of the day, the cannabis industry, Health Canada, and the public are all looking for the same thing – effective regulations that protect health and safety while giving Canadian consumers access to new products.  While Canada’s new regulations may be well-intentioned, the government would be wise to look at existing jurisdictions that have accomplished similar goals and model them accordingly.