Why black mar­ket could still thrive with le­gal pot ed­i­bles

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - BREN­NAN DO­HERTY

CAL­GARY— Very few busi­nesses long to be reg­u­lated. Baked Ed­i­bles is one of them.

For the last three years, the Vic­to­ria, B.C.-based com­pany has sup­plied ed­i­bles and top­i­cals — such as salves and mas­sage oils — to around 500 busi­nesses across Canada.

It re­mains an un­der­ground op­er­a­tion; these pop­u­lar prod­ucts were not le­gal­ized along with cannabis flower and oils last Oc­to­ber.

Sean Bird, Baked Ed­i­bles’ gen­eral manager, says the busi­ness is ready to adapt and sub­mit to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s com­ing reg­u­la­tions once they’re fi­nal­ized.

But he warned that the cur­rent sec­tion on ed­i­bles, as it cur­rently stands, only al­lows a very con­ser­va­tive dose of THC — the main psy­choac­tive com­po­nent found in cannabis.

He be­lieves the pro­posed limit of 10 mil­ligrams per package of ed­i­bles, small even for novice users, will keep cus­tomers re­turn­ing to the black mar­ket.

Al­ter­na­tively, con­sumers can cook up stronger ed­i­bles at home with rel­a­tive ease.

“They will find other meth­ods. Per­haps these meth­ods will not be reg­u­lated,” Bird said. “As we’ve seen in the past, the black mar­ket will fill any holes it can. It will re­main strong if there’s de­mand.”

Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado and Wash­ing­ton states al­low a sin­gle package of ed­i­bles — con­tain­ing mul­ti­ple gum­mies, brown­ies, cookies or other treats — to con­tain up to 100 mil­ligrams of THC. Ore­gon’s reg­u­la­tions are some­what stricter at 50 mil­ligrams.

De­spite its draft reg­u­la­tions al­low­ing just a fifth of Ore­gon’s limit, Health Canada said it looked to U.S. states for in­spi­ra­tion and cited the U.S. ex­pe­ri­ence as proof that le­gal­iza­tion does erode the black mar­ket’s stay­ing power.

“Ex­pe­ri­ence in the U.S. has clearly shown that the le­gal­iza­tion and reg­u­la­tion of cannabis in sev­eral U.S. states has led to a sig­nif­i­cant dis­place­ment of the illegal mar­ket, over time, in those ju­ris­dic­tions,” said Health Canada in a state­ment.

Part of Canada’s cau­tious­ness comes from fears of over­con­sump­tion. Un­like smok­ing a joint or va­p­ing cannabis oil, ed­i­bles have a de­lay be­tween con­sump­tion and when a user starts to ex­pe­ri­ence its ef­fects. Novice users might eat an ed­i­ble, not feel any­thing, and then eat sev­eral more un­der the as­sump­tion that they haven’t had enough. While cannabis over­con­sump­tion — col­lo­qui­ally re­ferred to as “green­ing out” — can be acutely un­pleas­ant and may mean a trip to a hos­pi­tal’s emer­gency room, it isn’t fa­tal.

Re­becca Haines-Saah, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary’s depart­ment of com­mu­nity health sciences, agreed a10-mil­ligram THC limit is a very low dose. For most users, it would mean a rel­a­tively mel­low high, al­though she noted that ed­i­bles pro­duce a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than smok­ing or va­p­ing.

“I imag­ine that putting out the draft reg­u­la­tions with a very, very low dose is meant to re­spond to this gen­eral con­cern among pub­lic health au­thor­i­ties,” she said.

Haines-Saah said it’s worth pay­ing at­ten­tion to the is­sue of over­con­sump­tion but said re­cent sta­tis­tics sug­gest­ing an in­crease in hos­pi­tal vis­its need to be taken in con­text.

Be­fore cannabis was le­gal­ized in Canada and cer­tain U.S. states, bring­ing a child to the ER be­cause they ac­ci­dently ate a spe­cial brownie could also mean a visit from child-wel­fare au­thor­i­ties. Now, she ar­gued, par­ents in those ju­ris­dic­tions are more likely to come for­ward.

“It’s a re­ally tricky is­sue to fig­ure out,” Haines-Saah said.

Par­lia­ment is ex­pected to approve the reg­u­la­tions by Oct. 17. Con­sul­ta­tions con­tinue be­tween Health Canada, cannabis in­dus­try play­ers, pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments, First Na­tions and other mem­bers of the pub­lic.

How­ever they turn out, the fi­nal rules will have a big im­pact. Ed­i­bles are likely to be a sig­nif­i­cant part of Canada’s recre­ational cannabis scene go­ing for­ward, ac­cord­ing to Mitchell Osak, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of busi­ness consulting and tech­nol­ogy ser­vices at Grant Thornton LLP, who ad­vises Cana­dian cannabis com­pa­nies.

Be­tween Jan­uary and July of 2018, he said, the de­mand for ed­i­bles in Cal­i­for­nia and Colorado made up about 43 per cent of the to­tal mar­ket for weed. Many po­ten­tial con­sumers in Canada are stay­ing out of pot shops be­cause they’re wait­ing for ed­i­bles to ar­rive.

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