Sarah Leamon: Trudeau government promotes paternalistic and overly restrictive rules for cannabis edibles

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      After months of uncertainty, the federal government has unveiled official proposals to legalize cannabis edibles. 

      The much-awaited scheme was released on December 22 following extensive research and community consultation—and while it is reasonably in line with what many industry insiders had anticipated, there are still a number of wrinkles to iron out.

      The new rules don’t just apply to standard pot brownies and other sweet treats. They will cover all cannabis infused products. This includes solid edibles as well as beverage items, cannabis topicals, and inhalable extracts and concentrates.

      And the rules are extensive. Aside from simply setting THC limits per product, they will also establish how products should be packaged and labeled, and what types of additives may be used.

      Regulations will be strict on what will be possible.

      For example, infused products cannot contain added vitamins, minerals, nicotine, or alcohol. Solid and beverage cannabis products will have a limit on allowable caffeine; bu extracts and concentrates cannot have any whatsoever and they cannot contain added sugars, colours or sweeteners, either. 

      This means that anyone dreaming of a THC-infused wine or vitamin smartwater in their near future will need to keep on doing so.  

      Moreover, almost all products will need to be sold in plain, child-resistant packaging and must not be appealing to minors. This means no cartoon characters, bright colours, or cool graphics. 

      While this seems limiting on paper, the practical reality will likely be far more daunting. 

      The regulations around packaging, products, and child safety are extremely broad. 

      Under the Cannabis Act, products are banned if they have an appearance, shape, or other sensory attribute that could reasonably appeal to a young person.  However, defining what this means in a consumer market that largely fetizishes youth will create a tightrope for many cannabis producers.  

      Moreover, sweets like brownies, cookies, and candies have become the preferred vessels for cannabis-infused edibles for a reason—they are tasty and appealing to people of all ages. 

      Unfortunately, this also includes people for whom they are not intended, like minors. 

      So, while the cannabis industry may be able to steer clear of making infused spider gummies or sour keys, creating a simple chocolate bar that is not appealing to children may amount to a near impossible task. 

      But that’s not all: under the new rules, cannabis-infused products cannot make health or dietary claims and topicals cannot boost cosmetic benefits. 

      In a beauty- and health-obsessed culture, these restrictions may severely hamper sales. 

      Instead, all packaging must clearly display the standardized cannabis symbol for any product containing THC, along with health warning messages. They must also show ingredient lists, allergens, and directions for intended use. 

      While this may seem benign, many consumers and advocates are pointing out the inherent hypocrisy in forcing health warning messages to be displayed on products that pose very little in the way of negative health effects, while suppressing any information related to their benefits.  

      It is this type of informational mismanagement that will perpetuate stereotypes around cannabis and cannabis users. It also simultaneously does a disservice to the general public by preventing people from properly accessing well-balanced and fair information about cannabis products. 

      This paternalistic approach to cannabis is similarly adopted in THC-content limits. 

      A maximum of 10 milligrams of THC per package of edibles has been suggested in the rules. 

      This is distinctly different from other jurisdictions, like Colorado and Washington state, which also set a limit of 10 milligrams of THC—but do so per serving size. This means that a package can contain more than 10 milligrams, but doses need to be divvied up in smaller serving sizes.

      This rather sensible approach allows consumers to dose appropriately, while also easily managing their THC intake.  

      The government’s suggested approach to THC limits will create excessive waste in terms of packaging, time, and resources. It will also cause frustration among seasoned cannabis users and medical users, who require a larger dose to achieve their desired affects.  

      All in all, the rules around cannabis edibles amount to a decent starting point, and not much else. 

      There is much work left to be done. 

      And with more consumers than ever reaching for edibles—and the market for such products expected to reach $5.3 billion by 2020—the government would be well advised to get their rules right sooner, rather than later.