Shelves at Canada's first recreational marijuana retailers might look a bit sparse when the country repeals prohibition next summer because cannabis edibles won't be part of the legal framework at first. But that gap in the retail market won't last long as there is already a plan underway to make THC-infused cookies, brownies and other foods available within a year of legalization.
Yesterday, the House Standing Committee on Health approved an amendment to Canada's legalization bill that would allow edibles.
“This proposed amendment would provide certainty and timing for Canadians and the industry that edibles containing cannabis and cannabis concentrates will be authorized for sale no more than 12 months of the proposed cannabis act,” said Liberal committee member John Oliver (no, not that John Oliver).
The decision gained immediate support from members of the industry like Shane Morris of the Gatineau-based medical marijuana grower Hydropothecary, who says opening up a legal channel for buying edibles will help close the black market for marijuana.
"Closing the edible gap by providing the legal ability to sell cannabis edibles will help combat a key black market sector and help mitigate the food safety and mis-dosing risks. A timeline for the establishment of the regulatory framework is very welcome as it allows preparation and planning by both Government and industry."
Demand for edibles is high across the country. According to a recent survey, 46 percent of Canadians would try edibles if they were commercially available. So the amendment is also a response to consumer demand. And on top of that, edibles offer a healthier alternative to cannabis consumers who don't want to smoke marijuana.
“Health Canada actually recommends ingesting marijuana instead of smoking it for medicinal use," Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, a Dalhousie University researcher who was the lead author of the survey, told CTV News recently. “It’s healthier! So, if people are tempted to try marijuana but they don’t want to damage their lungs, the edible solution becomes a very attractive one.”
But opponents of the Liberal government aren't enamoured with the timeline for allowing edibles. “There is no reason whatsoever to go slow on this because there’s nothing that we are going to learn in the next year about these products that we don’t know now,” said Don Davies, the Health Critic for the NDP.
However, Oliver insists that going slow is the best way to roll out legalization in a safe and responsible manner. Edibles are a hot-button issue among lawmakers because of what happened in Colorado after the state legalized cannabis in 2012. Due to lax regulations for edibles, Colorado saw a surge in the number of cannabis-related calls to poison control and hospital visits. Edibles aren't deadly, but they can lead to terribly bad experiences if people overdo it on cookies or brownies. And that can happen to anyone, just ask Alex Trebek.
So the delay might annoy critics and activists, but the government's hesitance is understandable since they don't want stories of cannabis hospitalizations putting legalization in jeopardy.