James Munro Explains Five Things You Need to Know About Legal ‘Edibles' for The Lawyer's Daily 

news & knowledge 

December 7, 2017


Canada is expected to legalize and regulate non-medical (recreational) cannabis. It will be the first G7 and G20 country to do so on a national basis. Specifically, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and the other Acts (the Act), as proposed by Bill C-45, sets out that dried and fresh cannabis, cannabis oil, and seeds and plants for personal cultivation, will be legalized and regulated. The government has said that the Act will come into force by July of 2018. What has been less clear to date has been the fate of cannabis infused foods and drinks, commonly referred to as “edibles.” Until recently, edibles were not included in the Act. This has now changed.

Edibles now on track to becoming legal

Bill C-45 recently passed third reading in the House of Commons and is currently before the Senate. After second reading in the House of Commons, Bill C-45 was amended to reflect recommendations from the House Standing Committee on Health to add edibles containing cannabis and cannabis concentrates to the classes of cannabis that may be sold by authorized persons once the Act comes into force. These amendments now form part of Bill C-45 which is before the Senate. The Senate may propose its own amendments to Bill C-45, which would then need to be approved by the House of Commons.

Edibles will not be legally available as soon as cannabis is

The House of Commons also approved a further amendment to Bill C-45 reflecting a further recommendation from the House Standing Committee on Health. Specifically, this amendment requires that the addition of edibles to the Act must occur within one year of the Act coming into force. Thus, assuming the Senate approves Bill C-45 generally and the inclusion of edibles specifically, the sale of edibles by an authorized person should be legal in Canada by July of 2019.

The government will need to draft and implement regulations dealing with the sale and production of edibles. This will no doubt be a significant undertaking, as edibles are a contentious and complicated component of the regulation of cannabis. We can assume that some guidance on these regulations will come from the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation’s Nov. 30, 2016 report A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada (the task force report).

Black market will continue to sell edibles while they are illegal

Despite being illegal, edibles are currently widely available in Canada, both through dispensaries and over the Internet. So long as edibles remain illegal in Canada, there is little doubt that the black market will continue to produce and distribute them. Edibles sold on the black market may be of varying quality, potentially containing bacteria, mould or pesticides. They may also vary in potency or have inaccurate labels, containing significantly more or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or cannabidiol (CBD) than indicated.

There are unique risks and concerns specific to edibles

The task force set out concerns specific to edibles that were expressed by participants of the public consultation and learned from the U.S. states that have already legalized edibles. These concerns included the fact that in the U.S. states where edibles were legalized without specific regulations, serving sizes were at times unclear and the amount of THC and CBD in each serving size varied. The risk of this is accidental overdoses as people may inadvertently consume too much. As well, the THC consumed in edibles can take longer to affect the body than THC that is smoked, resulting in potential accidental overconsumption or overdoses. This delayed effect may also be a concern with the issue of impaired driving, as people who eat edibles may not realize that the full effect of the drug is yet to come, and choose to drive.

Another significant concern is the fact that edibles can be made to look like candy or placed in treats such as brownies and cookies that are attractive to children, resulting in accidental consumption by children.

The risks of edibles can be reduced

Despite the above-mentioned risks and concerns, the task force report concluded that edibles should be legal in Canada and set out recommendations for their production and sale. Specifically, the task force recommended that there should be a prohibition on any edibles that are appealing to children, such as candies and sweets, and Canada should adopt, at a minimum, the strictest packaging and labelling requirements for edibles that are currently in force in the U.S. states. These packaging and labelling requirements currently include: a clearly marked standard serving size; a maximum amount of THC per product; an indication on the label of the amount of THC and CBD; child-resistant packaging; the THC symbol marked directly on the product; and no edibles with traits that are appealing to children, such as candies in the shapes of humans, fruits, or animals.

Proponents of the legalization of edibles argue that with these safeguards, and with accompanying public education campaigns on the proper use and risks associated with edibles, edibles can be legalized while minimizing the risk of accidental overdose by adults and accidental consumption by children.

This piece originally appeared in the Lawyer’s Daily and was written by James Munro.