Get­ting cannabis edi­bles to con­sumers com­plex

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION - SYLVAIN CHARLEBOIS

On Oct. 17, smok­ing cannabis will be­come le­gal in Canada. As for cannabis edi­bles, they will take a bit longer: Cannabis-in­fused food prod­ucts will be le­gal in a lit­tle less than a year’s time.

Once edi­bles are avail­able, things will get com­pli­cated in Canada’s food in­dus­try. But, with the right reg­u­la­tions, this is a profit op­por­tu­nity that doesn’t come ev­ery day.

Un­like the smok­able ver­sion, edi­bles can be con­sumed by any­one with­out those around them know­ing. It’s dis­crete, con­ve­nient — and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous.

Health Canada was caught by sur­prise by the ad­di­tional le­gal­iza­tion of edi­bles, and is still try­ing to come up with an ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tory frame­work.

Many ques­tions linger about the dis­tinct dan­gers edi­bles pose, par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren. Food com­pa­nies are no­to­ri­ously para­noid about food-safety is­sues, since they are al­ways just one re­call, out­break or tragic in­ci­dent away from clos­ing their doors. All it takes is one child eat­ing a cannabis-in­fused prod­uct, and the dam­age to that food com­pany would be ir­re­versible.

It is crit­i­cal that a reg­u­la­tory frame­work be put in place, which would in­clude proper la­belling of edi­bles, com­plete with THC con­tent and in­tox­i­cant warn­ings, to as­sure the pub­lic and in­dus­try that edi­bles and hu­mans can co-ex­ist safely.

With ad­e­quate safety mea­sures, edi­bles present a prof­itable op­por­tu­nity for the Cana­dian food in­dus­try. No one knows for cer­tain what the mar­ket po­ten­tial is for cannabis, much less for edi­bles, but growth op­por­tu­ni­ties are palat­able.

In Cal­i­for­nia, for ex­am­ple, con­sumers pur­chased US$180 mil­lion worth of cannabis-in­fused food and drink last year. In Colorado, where cannabis is also le­gal, sales of edi­bles rose by about 60 per cent a year over the past two years. This kind of tremen­dous growth is what the food in­dus­try needs right now. This is a po­ten­tial akin to what the in­dus­try saw with gluten-free prod­ucts.

Edi­bles also stand to shake up cur­rent play­ers in the food sec­tor. For ex­am­ple, peo­ple may choose cannabis more of­ten than a drink or two, and thus dis­rupt the al­co­hol in­dus­try. For On­tario, Bri­tish Columbia and Nova Sco­tia — where the wine in­dus­try is flour­ish­ing — this could be a prob­lem. We are al­ready see­ing cannabis beer be­ing launched in dif­fer­ent places.

But it’s not just al­co­hol that is sus­cep­ti­ble, as edi­bles can take many dif­fer­ent forms: Candies are the num­ber one food prod­uct con­tain­ing cannabis sold in the United States.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how brand­ing strate­gies will align with cannabis, too. Some peo­ple will choose cannabis to get high, but not ev­ery­one. Be­yond the psy­choac­tive ef­fects of cannabis, there is also the pos­si­bil­ity of pitch­ing it as a su­per­food. The cannabis plant is full of nu­tri­tional value.

A whop­ping 50 per cent of food com­pa­nies in Canada in the Dal­housie Univer­sity sur­vey are un­cer­tain about their po­si­tion re­gard­ing cannabis. Re­spon­dents cited dif­fer­ent rea­sons, such as con­cerns over em­ploy­ees be­ing trained prop­erly or not know­ing what prod­ucts will even­tu­ally be al­lowed into the mar­ket. Many com­pa­nies are also wor­ried about how cannabis can af­fect their brands or their sup­ply chain.

With le­gal­iza­tion, the stigma linked to cannabis will even­tu­ally dis­ap­pear, but it will take a while. The food in­dus­try is known to be risk averse, and it won’t be any dif­fer­ent to­ward cannabis. Un­til the in­dus­try knows the con­sumer is ready, cannabis edi­bles will stay on the side­lines — but hope­fully not for too long. Sylvain Charlebois is pro­fes­sor in food dis­tri­bu­tion and pol­icy, fac­ul­ties of man­age­ment and agriculture at Dal­housie Univer­sity.

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