ARE WE READY FOR SPACE CAKES AND GUMMIES?
A new wave of cannabis regulation kicks in this month. Producers are readying a raft of new edible and drinkable cannabis products. But consumers may be wary as we know a lot less about how TCH works in food and drink than we do about the effects of smoking a joint.
– Dana Larsen
ADVENT OF CANNABIS EDIBLES WILL ANSWER SOME QUESTIONS, POSE OTHERS
By ALISON JENKINS
If you’re reading this, you’ve already passed into the world of Cannabis 2.0.
On Thursday, Monkey Bars, Canna-bits, Special-Tea and any other THC-laden edibles, real or yet to be imagined, became legal in Canada.
As of Oct. 17, Health Canada’s second round of regulations governing edibles, extracts and topicals came into effect.
That's the maximum amount of THC you’ll find in a single packet of legal edibles or the average joint made from medium-strength cannabis.
But don’t expect to pick up some gummies on the way home. It’s just the first day producers can apply to sell the new products. The earliest estimate for items to land on store shelves is mid-December.
Edwin Jewell, founder of FIGR East, is ready.
“We’ve done a lot of research to see what consumers are looking for, and when the time comes, we’ll have products available to participate in (the edibles) market as well.”
He’s keeping details under his hat for now.
So, will party punchbowls get replaced by “special brownies” or “space cake”?
Not anytime soon, figures Dana Larsen, a dispensary owner and cannabis activist in Vancouver.
“Recreational use of edibles, it exists, but it’s way less. The vast majority of people who want to enjoy cannabis in a social setting are going to smoke it and not eat it,” said Larsen.
“People do eat it for fun sometimes, but people who are eating it are doing it for pain relief, or they want to sleep.”
Larsen is worried legalization of edibles will have a big impact on medical users.
As with anything, Larsen said cannabis users need to get informed and start with low potency products.
“If you’ve never used cannabis before, a potent extract is not the place to start.”
FOCUS ON LABELLING, PACKAGING
He’s not impressed with the limits on potency per package.
“The rules around food should be focused on proper labelling, childproof packaging, things like that,” said Larsen. “You want to make sure people who aren’t intending to eat it don’t get into it.”
But some medical cannabis users consume large quantities of high potency cannabis extracts and edibles, especially if they’re in a lot of pain or treating an opiate addiction with cannabis.
“To limit the access to stronger dosages like this is going to cause harm,” said Larsen.
A single 100-gram brownie may have 10 strong doses of THC. Strengths vary, especially in homemade edibles.
“We sell big bottles of vodka that can kill you if you drink it all and nobody’s worried about that, but a 10 mg cannabis cookie is too much for us to handle.”
Pushing medical users into a recreational market will increase their cost as they purchase several packages and take away the help they may need – recreational stores are not allowed to discuss medical benefits, said Larsen.
He is in the process of bringing his operation into compliance with Health Canada regulations, but he’s in no rush.
“If they want people to stop buying illegal cannabis, they’ll need to make legal cannabis much higher quality and much lower price,” said Larsen.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Vasantha Rupusinghe, a food biochemist from Dalhousie University questions whether Canada is ready for cannabis edibles.
Once legalized, CBD and THC will be considered food bioactives according to Health Canada. Bioactives give foods a little something extra—think probiotics or omega-3s—but too much of anything is still too much, said Rupusinghe.
Especially for THC, the psychoactive portion of cannabis.
THE POWER OF 3
That’s how many milligrams of THC can get you high if you’re trying cannabis edibles for the first time.
Rupusinghe is not alone in his worry that unsuspecting users will eat too much cannabis at once– either by mistake or out of inexperience.
“The first concern is whether we have enough scientific data to say what is a safe amount to incorporate into a food format,” he said.
As for whether there is enough data on the effects of edibles, the answer is simple. “Not yet.”
Dalhousie is awaiting permission from Health Canada to grow and research cannabis.
The effects on vaporization and inhalation are well studied, down to the specific pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, and the biochemist is keen to get working on similar research for edibles.
A LOT WE DON’T KNOW
Rupusinghe wants to know the best ways to incorporate cannabis into food to retain the beneficial properties as well as the impacts of processing on the active compounds in CBD and THC.
Quality assurance is important to Rupusinghe as well.
“When they concentrate THC and CBD, they can also concentrate pesticides and solvent residues. So people could get intoxicated or get sick and not just with the cannabis.”
Cheaper methods of extracting THC use methanol or butane and these chemicals can persist in the product after extraction, said Rupusinghe, adding he could talk for hours about the safety aspects of cannabis edibles.
“As (members of the) public, what we need to see is the right label, right warning and right dosage go on the packages.”
Big changes to policy like cannabis legalization take time, agree those in the industry.
“There’s a big cultural shift happening,” said Larsen. “There’s a lot of social resistance to it at a lot of levels.”
Jewell was up against the social resistance when he started his company in 2013.
His company transitioned from a medical producer to include recreational products when cannabis became legal last October.
“Canada hasn’t gone to hell in a hand basket. Things have remained pretty calm. What people kind of forget is that people were using cannabis before. We’ve made it legal in an effort to try and keep it out of the hands of kids and to take it away from organized crime. So, the process of getting there is baby steps and we’re making sure those things don’t happen.”
LEGALIZATION 2.0: FIXED DOSES, FEW FLAVOURS, PLAIN PACKAGING
Would-be producers, sellers and consumers got a look at federal regulations governing a host of new products, from cookies to creams, on June 26.
The new products fall into four categories: edibles, for eating and drinking; extracts (ingesting); edibles (inhaling) and topicals, for skin, hair and nails.
The THC content is capped at 10 mg per package for edibles, while extracts and topicals can contain up to 1000 mg per package. Extracts for ingesting may only contain 10 mg per unit (such as a capsule) but the package may contain up to 1000 mg altogether.
Packaging must be plain, and labels must state equivalency to dried cannabis to determine public possession limit.
As of Oct. 17, federal licence holders can give 60-days’ notice to Health Canada of their intent to sell new cannabis products.
Then, authorized sellers will need time to order in the new products, have them delivered and get them out to consumers.
Health Canada expects products will gradually begin appearing for sale no earlier than mid-December 2019.
BY THE NUMBERS
It can take 90 minutes for the effects of cannabis edibles to be felt and two hours or longer for the full effects.
That’s how long it will likely take for cannabis edibles, oils and topical creams to find their way onto store shelves in Atlantic Canada.
The time police forces, the military and many employers tell staff to abstain from taking cannabis products before working.
TAXPAYERS AND BLACK MARKET TAKE HIT IN FIRST YEAR
OF LEGAL WEED
By AARON BESWICK
– Terry Hedderson
Guns, liquor, smokes, propane, fresh fish or a can of beans.
You name it, Terry Hedderson has sold it from his little store near the tip of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Northern Peninsula.
More importantly, he’s sold them all legally.
Each product, except perhaps the can of beans, has required him to navigate complex sets of regulations both federal and provincial.
The time and paperwork is just part of providing a service to his community of St. Lunaire-Griquet.
So when pot was legalized by the federal government he pored over the forms to apply as a retailer with Cannabis NL and sent them off to St. John’s last March by priority post.
“I never got a phone call, email or letter back – nothing,” said Hedderson.
A year after legalization the nearest place to legally buy cannabis is in Deer Lake, 450 kilometres away from Hedderson’s Store.
“The way it should be is (Cannabis NL) sends someone out here to see that I have the security, locked storage, inventory control and that I’m selling at the price they say I have to,” said Hedderson.
“Then if I, or any other business who applies, can meet the requirements then they should give us a licence, we can place an order and the public can have access to what they just made legal.”
The rush to retail for a hitherto illegal product saw the provinces and territories all coming up with their own models. A year after marijuana’s legalization, picking winning and losing models isn’t easy.
“But we can start to,” said Michael Armstrong, a professor at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business.
The first step, he cautions, is figuring out what counts as winning.
Is it displacing the black market by making legal pot affordable and accessible or is it turning a profit for taxpayers?
As it turns out the two don’t go hand in hand and both, so far anyway, remain hard to quantify.
All we know for sure is that that the four Atlantic provinces are doing a better job as pot dealers than Ontario. As of September, Canada’s largest province had posted a $42 million loss selling marijuana and had only licensed 25 stores for a population of 14.3 million people. Atlantic governments have set up 48 stores for one-sixth of that population.
Neither the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation nor Cannabis NL—which wholesales and licenses 25 private retailers—have released financials for their cannabis operations, but they seem confident.
“I didn’t say we didn’t make money, I just said we don’t disclose,” said Dave DiPersio, NSLC’s senior vice president of corporate services.
“Profits are squeezed right now because we need to be competitive with the black market.”
NSLC estimates it spent $11-12 million renovating 11 existing liquor stores to include marijuana and training staff. Those costs won’t be a drag on the corporation’s second year in the cannabis business.
Beyond profit and loss sheets for marijuana sales, government also collects revenue from taxing those sales. According to Statistics Canada federal and provincial governments collected a total of $186 million in taxes off cannabis in the first five and a half months since its legalization.
So, there’s money to be made for government and with supplies now more secure and most of the set-up expenses complete, it’s now a matter of edging out the black market.
According to a phone survey recently contracted by the NSLC they are managing to cut the black market’s grass.
About 41 per cent of Nova Scotian marijuana users buy only through the NSLC while 40 per cent buy from both the NSLC and black market. The remaining 19 per cent buy solely from the black market.
Armstrong considers that a good first year.
“Once you have a good supply of product and good retail networks, then you’re into the head to head competition against the black market on price and quality,” said Armstrong.
“So, I think 40 per cent at this stage is pretty good. The next 20 per cent of consumers won’t be too hard, but after that it will get a lot tougher.”
As for Hedderson's quandary—Armstrong expects that as retail cannabis becomes normalized the hyper-caution of regulators around its proximity to alcohol will also lighten up.
PROFIT AND LOSS
NS - 11 stores (one per 88,000 people). Financials so far undisclosed.
NB - 20 stores (one per 38,000). Lost $11.7 million in first year.
PEI - 4 stores (one per 39,000). Lost $483,000 in six months.
NL - 13 stores (one per 21,000). Financials undisclosed.
HOW TO DEAL WITH WORKPLACE IMPAIRMENT
By EVAN CAREEN
– Derek Hogan
Before cannabis became legal a year ago there were a lot of questions. Would people be smoking it in the street? Would people be driving high all the time? Would employees get stoned on their breaks?
In reality, not much changed, especially in workplaces. Some employers simply said: “Don’t show up to work impaired.” But others imposed rules on how long employees must abstain from using cannabis before coming to work, a few setting the bar at 30 days with zero tolerance.
Is it a problem?
Chris King, an employment lawyer with McInnes Cooper in St. John’s said “health and safety is the primary driver for all of this.”
Policies are driven by the nature of the job, how safety sensitive a workplace is and to what extent the employer can tolerate risk. Each case is very different and very fact specific so there’s no real blanket answer that they can offer to any employer, King said.
Derek Hogan, CEO of WorkplaceNL, who works with employers and employees to promote health and safety said it’s all about impairment.
“We do know that use of cannabis can impair an individual’s memory, judgment, and motor skills, particularly as they’re using the product, so that’s really the starting point for this,” Hogan said. “As it would be if you showed up drunk at work from consuming alcohol.
Dr. John Weber is an associate pharmacy professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and gives seminars on impairment and marijuana in the workplace.
He said one of the main questions he gets from employers is how long impairment lasts and how you know if someone is impaired. The problem is that there’s no real way to know that right now.
“When you test positive for cannabis it doesn’t correlate with recent use, it could’ve been several weeks ago, it could’ve been a few days ago (and) you don’t have the impairing effects anymore,” he said.
He said current data suggest impairment generally lasts between two to four hours, but for some people it can last up to six hours. Significant impairment can be obvious, he said, much like alcohol, and he feels it should largely be treated the same way.
“If someone wants to smoke a joint at night—I'm talking someone in a typical 9-to-5 job—the same way they would drink a glass of wine or something like that, they wake up the next day, they are not impaired,” he said. “I also don’t think someone should be smoking a joint on a lunch break.”
King agrees that there’s a lot of work to be done on measuring impairment.
“All we can do with cannabis today is measure the metabolites or measure the THC in the oral fluid and extrapolate that therefore must mean that something is wrong,” King said. “We don’t even know in 2019 if a certain level of THC in the blood shows impairment,” he said.
Effect on workplaces
With a year under its legalization belt it appears that marijuana isn’t having the impact on the workplace that some feared it would.
A recent study conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of ADP has found that only five per cent of Canadians consume recreational cannabis before work, with four per cent consuming it during work hours and six percent using it after work with colleagues.
Hogan said in Newfoundland, at least, they haven’t seen much change.
“Prior to legalization, no one really knew what to expect but we found that employers and employees have stepped up and we’re just not hearing of any real incidents are people being impaired by cannabis, recreational cannabis use, in the workplace,” he said. “We think that’s a very positive thing.”
King said he also hasn’t dealt with any real increase in the number of cannabis related incidents in the workplace, which to him shows that people are getting a better understanding of the issue.
“I think that some of the workplace policies that we see in 2019 will be very different in 2025,” King said. “That just has to do with the evolution of the medical science that measures impairment.”
Hogan agreed, saying that polices have to be reviewed and as more medical science and evidence comes in on cannabis he’s sure some may change.
Weber said large-scale controlled studies are needed to better measure cannabis impairment. He said hundreds of participants would be required and have to be monitored for days measuring reaction time, motor coordination, and other physiological symptoms.
“Right now we just can’t unequivocally say that there’s a number, like 10 nanograms per millilitre, and say that someone is impaired,” Weber said. "That’s not true for everyone. We don’t have enough data to suggest that’s a level where someone will be impaired where they wouldn’t be able to work or drive a vehicle. It’s probably going to be at least five years before we’re there.”
Cannabis use in the workplace
80 PER CENT
Four out of five Canadians say they are either fully or somewhat aware of expectations surrounding legal recreational cannabis use at work. Managers (86 per cent) are more likely to fully understand their organization’s policies than non-managers (74 per cent).
5 PER CENT
One in 20 Canadians consume recreational cannabis before work, four per cent consume during work hours and six per cent consume after work with colleagues.
75 PER CENT
Three out of four Canadians believe recreational cannabis has had no impact at work in terms of health and safety incidents. Almost as many say it hasn’t affected productivity, absenteeism or quality of work.
DOCTORS SAY MORE RESEARCH, TRAINING, CONSUMER EDUCATION AND CAREFUL CONSUMPTION NEEDED
By DAVID JALA
Most who smoke pot say they do it because it makes them feel better. Others say they take it for physical pain and mental anguish.
So, where does the medical community stand? Doctors Nova Scotia past president Dr. Tim Holland, like many young physicians, is looking at recreational cannabis use with an open mind.
“As far as self-medicating goes, we know that a little cannabis can be effective in dealing with anxiety, but at the same time it’s obvious that too much makes that anxiety worse,” said Holland. He’s seen an influx of cannabis overdoses and has personally diagnosed a few cases of cannabinoid hyperemesis or “green flu” marked by dehydration and cyclic vomiting.
“It’s still too early to see what the impacts will be because we are still so close to the time of legalization – we’ll probably know a bit more as to what the overall use looks like in about four years,” he said.
But it’s now looking like the post-legalization spike was driven by inexperienced pot smokers who simply got too high and emergency room visits are back to pre-pot-law levels.
Meanwhile, a new generation of health care professionals is seeing cannabis as medicine. “Even prior to cannabis being legalized, medical marijuana has been an accepted therapy to manage pain and other conditions,” says Debbie Brennick, an associate professor in Cape Breton University’s nursing program.
“Now that it’s legal it has become part of the competencies that registered nurses must be aware of and must be able to practice safely.”
But like other healthcare professionals, she stressed that more research is needed.
“There is anecdotal evidence to support the fact that people who are using cannabis for pain therapy are having benefits from that therapy. There are also qualitative studies that do support that, but there is a lack of randomized control trials. It would be nice to have more evidence that the therapy is beneficial with very little side effects.”
In its latest statement, the Canadian Medical Association, the national body that represents more than 70,000 physicians and doctors in training, called for more scientific evidence to be required to support label claims of natural health products that contain cannabis.
“Those (products) for which health claims are made must be subject to a more meticulous standard of review. Rigorous scientific evidence is needed to support claims of health benefits and to identify potential risks and adverse reactions,” the CMA said in September.
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