Today marks exactly one year since adult-use cannabis sales started in Canada. Also today, the country’s regulations for edibles and concentrates go into effect, unleashing what some industry members have dubbed “cannabis 2.0.” Companies can now submit “new product notifications” for cannabis products they plan to bring to market, which have to be submitted to Health Canada 60 days before the product is made available to consumers. The earliest that new products can hit shelves is mid-December. But already, companies like Aurora and Tilray have announced forthcoming brands and products.
Canadian lawmakers and regulators wanted to be cautious and take time in crafting rules for the sale of non-flower products, which are higher in THC. This move came after US regulators learned the hard way that such potent products can lead to inadvertent overconsumption; in Colorado, for example, before the state capped THC in edibles, one tourist leapt to his death.
Edibles, though, are the least of regulators’ concerns. In the four months since Canada published, in June, its regulations for these new cannabis products—including cannabis vapes—the United States has reported 1,299 illnesses related to vaping and twenty-six vaping-related deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These illnesses and deaths have pushed some US political leaders to ban, at least temporarily, vape products: Oregon, for example, has banned flavored vape products while Massachusetts has banned all vape products for tobacco and cannabis.
Canada is watching closely.
Last Friday, the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health in Canada released a statement of concern over youth vaping and vaping-related illnesses in the country. Canada confirmed its first vaping illness in Quebec last month and has since reported two more “probable cases.” In its statement, the Council recommended that all Canadians refrain from using vaping products, “particularly any products that have been purchased illegally, including any products that contain THC.”
Jordan Crosby of Canada’s Office of the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, an office responsible for the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada, told Cannabis Wire in an email that the Canadian government is “actively monitoring the ongoing situation in the United States” and in close contact with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as they investigate the causes of the vaping-related illnesses.
He points out that Canada took its time in creating the new rules for additional adult-use cannabis products. “We heard clearly from Canadians that it was important to do this right and we took the necessary time to establish the appropriate safeguards,” Crosby said, noting that Canada’s regulations for new products like vapes are more stringent than those for other products. “We took into consideration the risks associated with inhalation, such as the sensitivity of pulmonary tissue to certain chemicals.”
The new vaping-specific regulations include restrictions on certain ingredients; requirements that any ingredients used in the products “other than flavouring agents must be of pharmaceutical quality;” prohibitions on sugars or “sweetening agents;” or against “anything that may cause harm or injury to the user when the product is used as intended;” as well as “the addition of vitamins or colouring agents.”
“It’s very much a safety-first protocol in Canada,” Aaron Sonshine, a partner at Bennett Jones, a Canadian law company that works closely with cannabis businesses in Canada and the United States, told Cannabis Wire.
“But I think from a regulatory standpoint, there will be challenges,” Sonshine continued, noting that there remain unknowns about “next generation products,” such as vapes. As the cannabis market in Canada plans to roll out such products, it “is likely to attract regulatory scrutiny.”
Alongside rules for vaping products, the regulations for new cannabis products will cap THC amounts in edibles, other extracts, and topicals. All sales must include an information sheet about the product and companies must take steps to ensure that they are not appealing to children (read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the regulations here).
Canadians will hit the polls on Monday for federal elections. In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party laid out clear intentions to federally legalize adult-use cannabis. This time around, no major party has called for significant changes to cannabis regulations.