No cannabis edibles on the shelves until mid-December, and then selection limited, says Health Canada

Vanmala Subramaniam | June 14, 2019

Canada will embark on its second wave of cannabis legalization — which will see edibles, concentrates and topicals become available for recreational consumption to the public — on October 17, 2019, almost a year after the government first legalized cannabis dried flower and oils. But government officials expect that only a limited selection of products will appear in physical or online stores “no earlier than mid-December 2019”.

Under the current regulations, cannabis producers must notify Health Canada 60 days in advance of their plans to sell new products. The department will start accepting new product applications from Oct. 17 of this year.

“Provincially or territorially authorized distributors and retailers will also need time to purchase and obtain the new products and make them available for sale,” officials said on a technical briefing with the media Friday afternoon.

Despite a four-month consultation period with the public and industry stakeholders to evaluate the draft regulations that came out last December, there were no major changes to the kinds of products that would be made legal, and the THC content in those products.

The government’s final regulations for edibles sets a strict limit of 10 milligrams of THC in a “single-serving”, while concentrates (usually consumed using devices like vape pens) will have a limit of 1,000 milligrams of THC per package. Cannabis topicals, like lotions, balms and oils that are absorbed through the skin usually for pain relief or inflammation will also have a limit of 1,000 milligrams of THC per package.

A worker packages marijuana-infused chocolate bars at Kiva Confections in Oakland, California. In Canada edible marijuana products must not be “appealing to kids” and cannot be manufactured in the same facility where regular food products are made. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The government reiterated its restrictions on advertising these products, specifically noting that products must not be “appealing to kids”, and contain no health claims. In addition, there should be no elements in a product that could associate it with alcoholic beverages, or brands of alcohol. It is still unclear as to whether beer brewed from the cannabis plant — a patented recipe that Canadian start-up Province Brands has been marketing for over two years now  — will be allowed.

“There’s still a little bit of confusion around ingredients, and the limitations on some of the shapes of these products. Cupcakes and other sweet treats, for example, will definitely have an appeal to younger people,” said Lucas McCann, of cannabis consulting firm CannDelta Inc.

“All products containing THC will carry standardized symbols and contain a warning message. Cannabis cannot be manufactured in the same facility where regular food products are manufactured,” officials added.

A single “serving” of cannabis edibles can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC, which means that whether or not there are 10 cookies in a packet or just one cookie for example, the THC content will remain the same, officials said.

“It’s unfortunate despite extensive industry consultations and feedback, HC has ignored extremely environmentally unfriendly packaging restrictions into the final regulations” said Deepak Anand, industry advisory and CEO of Materia Ventures.

Early reaction from licensed producers show a general support for the final regulations, especially in relation to the timeline of December 2019.

“We have been working towards this timeline, and one of the things we have learned from last year is that you want to have sufficient inventory before going to market,” said Organigram Inc. Chief Executive Greg Engel.

“I think if we had launched any earlier, we would have been prepared but we would have launched with fewer products. In December, we will have some of our edible products ready,” Engel confirmed.

A number of major licensed producers like Canopy Growth Corp., Quebec-based HEXO Corp. and CannTrust have already forged relationships with major companies in the food and beverage industries in order to prepare for this second wave of legalization.

Canopy — which received a $9 billion investment from alcohol giant Constellation Brands last fall — has a bottling factory up and running in Smiths Falls, Ont., and an in-house chocolate maker Hummingbird, that is developing cannabis-infused chocolates. But in a recent interview with the Financial Post, Canopy Chief Executive Bruce Linton was vague in his response to just how ready Canopy would be come October with its new line of pot ingestibles and beverages.

“We gave our feedback to Health Canada, and we’re waiting to see what the actual regulations will look like. But I’m happy with our bottling factory across the street,” Linton said.

Besides its joint venture with Molson Coors to develop cannabis-infused beverages, HEXO Corp. — as a result of its acquisition of Newstrike Brands — has an agreement with food company Neal Brothers Inc., to develop pot-infused specialty food products.

Aurora Cannabis Inc., the second largest cannabis producer in the country, is directing its focus on vape pens, which Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley believes is what will really be a game-changer for cannabis demand in Canada. “You’re going to start seeing people shift over from the illicit market, the minute vape pens become available. And we have a head start on that,” Battley said recently.

Late last year, Aurora launched a high-potency, vape-ready CBD oil product line called Aurora Cloud, which contains 550mg of CBD and less than 30mg of THC, in line with Health Canada’s guidelines. It is the only vape-ready CBD product that is legally available in Canada to date.

Meanwhile, cannabis extractors like MediPharm Labs and Valens GroWorks have seen their valuations soar in the leadup to cannabis legalization 2.0, as licensed producers who do not have extraction facilities in operation yet are outsourcing this service. But it is still unclear, given Canada’s cannabis shortage, how much dried flower the large licensed producers like Canopy, Aphria Inc. and Aurora have accumulated for extraction, which will be a key factor in determining when Canadians will be able to legally purchase edibles, concentrates and topicals.