Canadian cannabis advocates are calling on the federal government to relax strict limits on the potency of cannabis edibles with a petition seeking a tenfold increase in maximum permitted THC levels.
Canada legalized cannabis through an act of Parliament in 2018, and retail sales of cannabis extracts and edibles were authorized for licensed operators one year later. Regulations on edibles set strict potency limits, however, with a cap of 10 milligrams of THC per product. In contrast, California, the largest regulated market in the United States, limits THC to 100 milligrams per package, with a per-serving cap of 10 milligrams.
Last year, an Independent Expert Panel began a mandated review of Canada’s cannabis regulations. Advocates for the regulated industry see the review as an opportunity to push lawmakers to increase the THC limit on edibles, launching a petition last week calling on the federal government to increase the limit to 100 milligrams per package.
Jennawae Cavion, the executive director of the Canadian chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML Canada) told the National Post that regulations that strictly limit the potency of edibles make it difficult for licensed businesses to compete with illicit operators.
“It’s driving the market to the unregulated market, which (licensed) cannabis retailers cannot compete with,” Cavion said.
Sam Gerges, the owner of the licensed retailer Mary Jane’s Cannabis, agreed that the THC limit on edibles hinders the regulated market from competing with unlicensed operators.
“No one who buys 100 to 1,000 mg edibles on the streets is going to buy edibles from legal retailers,” he said. “That’s like selling non-alcoholic vodka and saying it’s the real deal.”
The authors of the petition note that a government agency charged with maintaining a competitive business environment and Ontario’s sole authorized cannabis distributor have called for an increase in the THC limit for weed edibles.
“Both the Canada Competition Bureau and the Ontario Cannabis Store have called upon Health Canada to increase THC limits,” the petition reads. “The Competition Bureau has stated that ‘restricting THC levels may not be necessary to achieve the government’s objectives,’ while the Ontario Cannabis Store has emphasized the need to ‘revisit the current THC limits.’ These endorsements from reputable organizations highlight the importance of reconsidering the current restrictions.”
Report On Legalization Released Last Month
The Independent Expert Panel began its work in 2022 and issued its first report last month. Many of those interviewed for the report recommended against making “large-scale changes” to regulations so soon after they took effect, with some even suggesting that the minimum age for purchasing and using cannabis should be increased to 21 from the current 18.
“Many public health stakeholders and some provincial and territorial government officials focused on reinforcing the value of existing regulatory controls, such as the THC quantity for edible cannabis products and promotion restrictions, to reduce harms,” the report reads.
The review panel’s report also noted that 10 milligrams was established as a “reasonable upper-limit” to avoid overconsumption by inexperienced consumers and that more experienced users tend to prefer smoking or vaping cannabis over edibles. The report also noted that some disputed the notion that the THC cap on edibles is driving consumers to the unregulated market.
“Some researchers suggested that it is rare that higher dose edibles drive consumers to purchase illicit cannabis, as consumers often cite convenience, price and quality as reasons for purchasing illicit products,” the report notes.
Cavion disagreed, saying that low-potency edibles are indeed a factor driving consumers to illicit operators. She also noted the regulations are inconvenient and promote unhealthy eating.
“The other part of it is the amount of sugar you have to consume to get your regular dose,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to eat 10 fun-sized chocolate bars when I can just have a few squares of one chocolate bar — if it has to be chocolate at all.”
Michael DeVillaer, an assistant professor at McMaster University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience, argued against hiking Canada’s THC limit on cannabis edibles.
“Given the potential public health risks, I would place the onus on the petitioners to provide market research that shows there is truly high consumer demand for higher THC product,” said DeVillaer, who is the author of a book on Canada’s legalization of cannabis. “But even if there is such demand, that does not mean we should imperil public health protection for the industry’s interests in market expansion.”
“If the cannabis industry and government are sincere about wanting to compete with the unlicensed trade, they need to clean up the licensed one which is fraught with regulatory violations, including poor product integrity which includes use of unauthorized pesticides, mold, microbial and chemical contaminants, incorrect labeling, and misrepresented products,” DeVillaer added. “These are the historical liabilities of the unlicensed trade that the licensed trade was supposed to fix.”
Cavion countered that strictly regulating cannabis industries will encourage consumers to seek the products they like from unlicensed businesses.
“If we want legalization to be a success, we can’t be limiting the creativity of licensed producers,” she said. “This isn’t an institutional product — it’s recreational cannabis, it’s literally meant for us to have fun.”
Canada’s House of Commons began accepting signatures for the petition to increase the THC limit for cannabis edibles on November 8. The signature collection is scheduled to end on March 7, 2024, at 11:31 a.m. EDT.