Oh, Canada, Your New Cannabis Packaging Regulations Have Tightened

by Rudy Sanchez on 06/20/2019 | 3 Minute Read

In the fall of 2018, Canada became the second nation to decriminalize recreational use of cannabis, following Uruguay’s legalization of the substance in 2013.

After legalization, however, comes the minutiae of regulation, creating a series of rules that satisfies multiple stakeholders with a diverse set of priorities, from health advocates concerned about public intoxication to parents that want to make access as difficult as possible for minors.  Unfortunately, this hazy regulatory environment can create well-intentioned rules that cause more problems than they solve, as is the case with the ones announced by Health Canada regarding edibles, including THC-infused beverages, as well as topicals and inhalants.

The new rules include the amount of THC per packaging,10mg in the case of edibles, require plain packaging that does not appeal to children, and the prohibition of terms that associated with tobacco, vaping, or alcohol.

Cannabis edibles are not allowed to contain tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine, with exceptions to the latter for small, naturally occurring amounts in ingredients such as chocolate. The rules allow for THC-infused beer and wine, so long as the alcohol gets removed. The new regulations go into effect Oct. 17, but federal cannabis license holders must give Health Canada 60 days notice of their intent to sell edibles, as well as topicals and inhalers. This means that the earliest Canadians will see edibles on store shelves and online is in December.

While the rules prohibiting using terms associated with alcohol, tobacco, or vaping are well-intentioned, it puts cannabis-infused beer and winemakers in a particularly difficult position as they have to communicate what their product is while being unable to use terms that could accurately describe that product, or even use descriptive images on the label. For example, a Chardonnay infused with THC and alcohol-free under Canada’s rules, can’t be called “Canna-Chardonnay,” or possibly even “white canna-grape beverage,” since white is a commonly associated wine term. The product could end up having to be called “Grape-derived Cannabis-infused beverage,” which could be grape juice or wine, two very different drinks. Likewise, a THC-IPA might end up being called “Spicy grain-flavored THC soda.” And images or a brewery or vineyard are not allowed, per simple label rules.

“The amended Cannabis Regulations prohibit representations that associate a cannabis product, its packaging, its labeling or its promotion with an alcoholic beverage, or with tobacco or vaping products,” Health Canada spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau told Global News.

“The prohibition is based on evidence demonstrating that combining cannabis with other substances can increase impairment or increase the risk of problematic use and associated harms. The Cannabis Act also prohibits any products, promotion, packaging, or labeling that could be appealing to young people.”

Health Canada’s priority isn’t avoiding market confusion or helping cannabis manufacturers market their product; it’s public health. However, these rules only add confusion and solve a problem that likely doesn't exist. It’s true that mixing several intoxicants can be dangerous, but it’s unclear whether these new rules prevent consumers from doing so. It’s also unclear if non-alcoholic THC-beers that use designations for styles of beer like “IPA” or “Lager" promotes mixing alcohol and cannabis.

Finally, these new rules are more onerous than the rules governing alcohol packaging, which is not limited to simple rules for example. According toWorld Health Organization (WHO), Canadians drink 8.9L of alcohol per capita, above the regional average of 8.0L annually, with nearly a quarter of Canadians reporting at least one occasion of heavy drinking every 30 days.

Anyway, it's just more confusion from a country who wants to ban plastic straws, but also expand oil pipelines, so go figure.

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