Cannabis conundrum: edibles and all

An in-depth look at how Canadians, the government and entrepreneurs are preparing for the legalization of cannabis edibles

The recent announcement of Ontario’s first four pot shop locations is a step forward in Canada making cannabis legal for recreational use — but not in all of its popular forms. You won’t find THC-infused gummies, lollipops, chocolate bars or brownies in government-run dispensaries for at least another year, even though a recent Dalhousie University study found almost half of Canadians would try them if they became available.

Edibles are popular because they’re a fun, easy alternative to smoking. But they raise a whole new level of regulatory issues because they are food products with their own unique set of health risks and issues. And in those forms, they’re attractive to children and could easily be mistaken for regular candy.

It’s also easy to overindulge because they can taste so good. But eat too much and you might wind up calling for help, just like the two Toronto police officers who allegedly ate pot edibles and wound up hallucinating in January.

Legality and Health Canada Concerns By Michael Gezahegn & Alex Goudge

The legalization of cannabis edibles is proving to be challenging for the government due to the consistency to regulation potency and health risks for both adults and children.

Even if the proposed Cannabis Act makes it through Parliament — the Senate is expected to vote on it by June 7 — edibles aren’t a part of the deal.

While edibles are currently undergoing research and development, it will take another year to get them to market, according to Maryse Durette, a spokesperson for Health Canada.

“Proposals on issues such as the amount or dose of THC in an edible product  are being developed,” she said.

A summary of public consultations on cannabis legalization released by Health Canada March 19, however, showed many people in Canada pushed for them to be available right away.

“Many respondents took the opportunity to urge the government to allow the sale of cannabis edibles and concentrates immediately upon coming into force of the proposed Cannabis Act (rather than enabling their sale within 12 months as set out in the proposed legislation),” the document says.

“These respondents cited the need for the legal industry to be able to offer the same diversity of products that are currently available through the illegal market in order to be able to successfully compete.”

Michael Gezahegn's news report on Cannabis Edibles and Health Concerns of Health Canada

Even so, the paper also noted that some Canadians realized that edibles pose “unique public health risks … such as quality control, THC limits, portion sizes, and specific packaging and labelling requirements.”

Health Canada is working to keep children safe, and that’s one reason for the delay, according to Tammy Jarbeau, a senior media relations advisor for Health Canada.

The plan includes “requiring child-resistant packaging and requiring labelling with a standard cannabis symbol to make it clear that edibles contain cannabis.”

“Since edibles can also look like conventional foods, there is risk that children or adults will confuse them for normal food products, and as a result, could be accidentally exposed to cannabis,” she said.

Part of the draw for cannabis edibles is their variety of flavours. But Jarbeau indicated there is a strong possibility of restrictions on “product forms, ingredients and flavouring agents” once they are legally available. The plan could prohibit “products that have an appearance, shape, or other sensory attribute,” she said.

But Jodie Emery, a Vancouver-based cannabis advocate, said the industry has already been doing a “great job” of branding and labels. She would prefer to see edibles widely available through a free-market approach, rather than government regulation.

“People as always in the free market when they have choice go towards the best option and the best option will win with the best branding option or service and that’s how you properly regulate a market,” she said in a phone interview.

“Just let people compete. Let the winners win and the losers lose and don’t give special treatment to anyone over another. It’s about the free market.”

Dining on Cloud Nine By Danielle Clarke

Foie gras, caviar canapes, seared tuna on a bed of fresh greens … it all sounds delicious, right? Now imagine both of those dishes with a dash of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active ingredient in the cannabis plant. It could take a dinner party to a whole new level.

That’s what Guy Kramer, co-founder of The Green Chef, a cannabis-infused food catering services, does for his clients. Based in Toronto, Kramer prepares cannabis-infused meals and treats for those for patients with access to medicinal marijuana — and interest in his dishes could grow if edibles are eventually legalized.

Dining on cloud nine with Chef Guy Kramer

“I extract the needed ingredients and chemicals from the cannabis plant depending on the illness, and infuse it into an edible of their choice,” Kramer said.

His fascination of edibles started at an early age. He was experimenting with cannabis extraction when he was 13 and cooking with it by 14.

The Green Chef works alongside organizations like CannaConnect and MedReleaf, which help connect Canadian veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries with medicinal cannabis.

“The veterans wanted to take their medication without smoking it,” Kramer said.

A recent study by Dalhousie University suggests many Canadians would try edibles like Kramer’s if they were made legal because they want access to THC  without smoking.

The study found that almost half of Canadians would try cannabis-infused foods if they were made legally available for purchase. Thus, interest in the chef’s mail-order meals could grow.

Kramer would like to see government should make cannabis more widely available overall, rather than allowing it to be only sold through government distributors.

“When it comes to the ‘negatives’ of cannabis edibles, they don’t have a foundation to stand on,” he said. “They have very weak foundations that they would like to pretend are strong, based on monetary wealth and control.”

Kramer wants to have a public discussion with politicians about the future of cannabis edibles.

“I don’t know what’s in the mind of politicians, they say they care more about health, understanding, wellbeing and safety,” he said.

“I have invited (Toronto) Mayor John Tory and (Ontario Premier) Kathleen Wynne to debate with me in every interview I’ve done, and the crickets are still chirping.”

Cannabis edibles: highs and lows By Cassidy Jacobs

Frequent marijuana users believe edibles are a better option to get your high since they’re pretty much conventional food infused with  THC, the main active ingredient. But not every edible consumer — especially first-time users, are aware of how their body can handle the onset effects.

“Consumers unaware of the delayed onset of effects, which can range from 30 minutes to two hours, are at risk of over consuming edibles and experiencing unwanted effects especially when the edible contains a significant quantity of THC,” a spokesperson for Health Canada said in email.

Lucas Cuff is a 19-year-old student who’s also an avid marijuana user. Cuff describes his negative experience trying edibles.

Csilla Racz, 20, talks about her experiences with cannabis edibles

The effects of consuming marijuana are the same as smoking marijuana — decreased reaction time, giddiness, increase in appetite, dizziness, for a start.

Manufacturers of cannabis-infused edibles — such as Euphoria Extractions, which sells THC-laden toffees and chocolates — encourage their buyers to consume a small portion of their edibles while waiting an hour before eating more.