Alberta government's delay on cannabis vaping sales the wrong move, industry group says

The Alberta government’s decision to put the brakes on the sale of cannabis vaping products will simply drive people to unsafe alternatives available on the black market, the head of an industry group says.

'They're simply going to drive more people to that illegal market'

Cannabis vapes are among a series of new products — including edibles, extracts and topicals such as lotions — that can be legally sold in Canada as of Dec. 17, 2019. But the Alberta government is putting the sale of cannabis vape products on hold pending a review. (Steve Helber/The Associated Press)

The Alberta government's decision to put the brakes on the sale of cannabis vaping products will simply drive people to unsafe alternatives available on the black market, the head of an industry group says.

In a move that caught Alberta cannabis retailers and producers off guard, the province announced late last month that the launch of edibles, extracts and topicals (EET) will not include vape products.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) spokesperson Heather Holmen said the review is being done in view of recent reports about the health effects of vaping.

"AGLC and government are considering various aspects related to cannabis vape products to determine whether or not they will be available for consumer purchase in Alberta," she said.

John Carle, executive director of the Alberta Cannabis Council, said it's a misguided move.

"We feel the provincial government has made the absolute reverse of a good choice in this decision, because they're simply going to drive more people to that illegal market, and they're going to put peoples' health at risk," he said.

Ashley Newman, owner of Queen of Bud in southwest Calgary, says she worries the province's decision to postpone allowing the sale of cannabis vape products will prompt consumers to turn to the black market to get them. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Carle said his organization was told by provincial officials that cannabis vaping would not be part of the scope of the ongoing review of the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act, therefore input from the cannabis industry wouldn't be needed.

So he was surprised to learn the province had decided put cannabis vape product sales on hold pending a review after all.

"We got absolutely no forewarning, at all. We found out the same time you did," he said.           

"If they had just dealt with it properly and consulted with industry, they would have known this and we would be in the position where we could protect the health of Albertans."

Carle said the council will try to convince provincial officials that banning the sale of cannabis vape products, as Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have done, would be counterproductive.

"While I recognize some people don't want these products sold at all, that isn't the decision that they get to make. The decision they get to make is who's selling it. Will it be regulated, taxed and controlled properly or will it be the illegal market that's going to put people at risk. That's the decision they have to make," he said.

Ashley Newman, who runs the Queen of Bud store in southwest Calgary, is also worried customers will turn to illicit sources to get their hands on cannabis vape products.

"Just because we aren't getting them doesn't mean you won't see other people have them. So the point of legalization in the first place was to eliminate the black market and to ensure that quality control was put in place for cannabis products," she said.

And Newman said she worries about the impact of the delay on licensed producers.

"They've hired more people to take care of these new products that they were planning to roll out with the vapes… jobs are going to be affected and Alberta's economy is already in a very fragile state," she said.

Carle said it's also important to understand that vaping-related illnesses have been linked to the presence of vitamin E acetate, something licensed Canadian producers don't use.

"That is only present in sub-standard vaping products that are purchased on black markets from countries like China," he said.