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‘Like a light beer’: Will Health Canada’s THC cap make edible pot too weak?

Health Canada has released proposed regulations for cannabis edibles, extracts and topicals. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Health Canada has released proposed regulations for cannabis edibles, extracts and topicals. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Health Canada’s proposed cap on the strength of cannabis edibles is akin to limiting legal alcohol sales to beer while criminals are selling rum, whisky and tequila, according to an industry expert.

The federal agency’s first draft of regulations for cannabis edibles, extracts and topicals limits the amount of psychoactive THC per package, restricts products appealing to young people, and mandates child-resistant packages and warning labels.

The newly proposed rules include a hard cap of 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, per package of edible pot.

“It’s like a light beer,” Deepak Anand, vice president of business development and government relations for the consulting firm Cannabis Compliance Inc. told Yahoo Finance Canada on Thursday.

“To compete with the black market you are going to have to offer higher THC products, because that’s what the black market currently has.”

Health Canada released its preliminary guidelines on Thursday, while at the same time announcing a 60-day consultation for the public to voice their opinions. Formal draft regulations are expected to be released on Dec. 22.

“By establishing a strict regulatory framework for these new cannabis products we are keeping profits away from criminals and organized crime. I encourage all interested Canadians to share their views on the proposed regulations,” Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair said in a press release.

“The Government of Canada’s top priority is the health and safety of Canadians.”

Anand said edible products with 50, 60, and 100 mg of THC are plentiful on the illegal market. He expects the 10 mg limit will prompt some consumers to ingest multiples servings to achieve their desired effect, or turn to black market in search of stronger products.

“Maybe up to 30 or 40 mgs of THC would have been a better bet,” Anand said.

Similar limits were unveiled for extract-based products like vape pens, which will be limited to 10 mg of THC per unit, and no more than 1,000 mg per package. Lotions and topicals will also be limited to 1,000 mg per package.

Other proposed rules include a ban on claims of health and nutritional benefits, similar to those imposed on the current selection of legally available cannabis products.

Health Canada is also recommending “strict manufacturing controls” be put in place for edibles to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, including a ban on the production of cannabis edibles in the same facility as other food.

Restrictions on the use of “sweeteners, colourants or ingredients that could encourage consumption, such as nicotine,” are suggested for extract products in order to reduce appeal to young people. Prohibiting certain flavours with youth appeal from being displayed on product labels “consistent with rules for other vaping products,” is also among the proposed rules.

While licensed cannabis producers have forged business ties with players in both the alcohol and tobacco industries, Anand said Health Canada’s regulatory approach appears to be more closely mirroring the latter.

“I think it’s the government’s opinion that alcohol has been a failed public policy, whereas tobacco, to a certain extent, has been successful public policy,” he said. “What were are seeing in the Cannabis Act with restrictions on branding and marketing, which are furthered on edibles and extracts, are more of the emulation of the tobacco.”

Anand said Ottawa may wish to rethink such restrictions if its intent is to reduce alcohol-related harm by allowing cannabis-based options.

“(Right now) you can’t have a Molson-Coors-branded CBD beverage,” he said. “We know cannabis is safer than alcohol. You could be able to create brands that look like alcohol to be able to transition people from alcohol to a cannabis-infused beverages.”

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