Legal edible cannabis products coming to retail stores later this year may not be recognizable to consumers who have enjoyed brightly packaged high-potency products from the grey market.
Ottawa’s approach to legalization is decidedly not the disco reggae dance party that legalization activists envisioned when cannabis prohibition ended last year, favouring a more subdued approach to marketing.
It is not clear what kinds of treats will be approved for sale in Canada, as the new guidelines are vague, except to say packaging and products cannot be “appealing to a young person.”
Whether approved products will include cookies, but not cookies with Smarties, is unknown. The guidelines, which also apply to beverages, expressly forbid the mixing of alcohol and THC in one product.
Packaging for edibles will be child-resistant, plain, and include mandatory health warnings. Single-serving products will be limited to 10 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive drug in cannabis.
Health Canada warns inexperienced users to start with 2.5 milligrams or less, and wait to see what the effects are. They also warn people using edibles to avoid smoking cannabis.
Grey market cannabis candy and baked goods often pack in 50 or 60 milligrams of THC per piece, while medical products range up to 1,000 milligrams, to be consumed over time.
“The 10-milligram limit is the equivalent of selling alcohol only in little airline bottles to stop people from getting too drunk,” said legalization activist and cannabis retailer Dana Larsen. “We are treating cannabis 10,000 times more severely than alcohol, which is clearly the greater risk to health and public safety.”
“All these little portions individually wrapped is really going to create a lot of extra packaging and waste,” he added.
Many people who consume cannabis for medical reasons will be forced to eat multiple portions to get an effective dose, he said.
“I guess it’s fine to say people can eat more than one piece, but I have cancer patients who use 500 milligrams in suppositories a day and no one wants to put 50 things up their butt,” he said.
Suppositories limit the psychoactive effects of cannabis extracts, while providing comfort to cancer patients, he said.
One advantage of legal edibles is that products will be accurately regulated for strength and purity, which will benefit consumers, he noted.
The market for edibles and extracts in Canada will grow to $2.5 billion a year, with significantly higher profit margins than weed, according to a new report from Deloitte.
“The edibles market alone is estimated to be worth at least $1.6 billion a year in Canada, with cannabis-infused beverages adding a further $529 million,” said Deloitte partner Jennifer Lee, a cannabis market expert for the multinational business consultant.
With a contiguous market, government support and access to the banking system, Canadian companies enjoy significant advantages over their American competitors, Deloitte said.
Potential edible cannabis users are planning to eat cannabis-infused gummy bears (which will not be legal in Canada), cookies, brownies or chocolate at least every three months, Deloitte’s research shows.
Manufacturers will be able to apply to sell their edible products on Oct. 17, when the legislation comes into effect. From then, it will be 60 days before Health Canada approves any for sale, and then a few more days or weeks to see products appear on retail store shelves and online.
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