British Columbia·GREENLIT

Why cannabis vape pens and concentrates will not be allowed for recreational marijuana

It may be easy to buy vape pens right now, but come October 17 they will not be allowed for recreational marijuana. The federal government is trying to find a way to regulate both vape pens and cannabis concentrates.

Health Canada says more evidence is needed of their risks and harms

Anti tobacco groups are urging the provincial government to proclaim laws banning vaping indoors. (Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press)

Cannabis vape pens can be found in several dispensaries across Vancouver. But after Oct.17, cannabis concentrates and vape pens will not be allowed for recreational marijuana.

Vape pens allow cannabis users to ingest concentrated extracts from the cannabis plant.

Cannabis concentrates usually consist of THC extract, or the less psychoactive component, CBD. They are sold in either liquid form or a waxy substance.

Vape pens are portable battery-powered devices.They are easy to use, do not produce any smoke and emit little odour. 

"There's also this perception that these vape pens for cannabis give a cleaner high because you aren't inhaling burnt plant matter like you would if you were smoking a joint," On the Coast's Greenlit columnist Rohit Joseph told host Gloria Macarenko.

But the government has not yet found a way to regulate these products.

Health Concerns

Health Canada says more evidence is needed of the risks and harms of vape pens and cannabis concentrates.

The government is concerned about high potency, and the chemicals and solvents that are used to extract the concentrated form of cannabis.

"I think there are concerns, in terms of psychosis, in terms of anxiety," said Michael John Milloy, research scientist at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and assistant professor at UBC.

Cannabis oil during the manufacturing process. Cannabis concentrates like this are not yet regulated by the federal government. (Wikipedia)

Cannabis concentrates are created by an industrial process, so they are not natural products. Chemicals are commonly used to extract the cannabis molecules from the flower and create the concentrates, according to Milloy.

But there are some potential benefits, says Milloy. Getting a specific dose of cannabis is much easier with vape pens than by smoking it.

The black market

A California-based company called dosist legally manufactures vaporizing products. But while the company has an office in Vancouver, it only sells its products in California due to current regulations.

"If the government's mandate is to protect children and stamp out the black market, this is the single biggest gift that the government could give the black market. To allow for certain forms of cannabis, and not all," said Josh Campbell, president of dosist.

Campbell says the black market will move away from selling the cannabis flower, and begin creating oil, which has much higher value and concentration. Because concentrates are unregulated, the black market will have an opportunity to make money off of them.

In the California legal market, nearly a quarter of sales in 2016 were for cannabis vape cartridges, according to marijuana delivery service Eaze. In Washington state, dry bud sales fell to 61 per cent from 87 per cent in just two years of cannabis vape cartridges being available.

Campbell says he would not be surprised if cannabis vape pens and other concentrate products surpass the dry bud market within five years of recreational legalization.

In the meantime, those purchasing concentrates will be taking a risk, says Joseph. Consumers will have no assurance of what is in the products until they are regulated.

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With files from On the Coast