Alberta cannabis industry readies for edibles, but details still murky

One year after the legalization of cannabis, Alberta retailers and producers are gearing up for the introduction of edibles to the market, but aren’t sure what to expect.

Tight regulations have unintended consequences, create waste, retailers and producers say

Cannabis edibles will be technically legal in Canada as of Oct. 17, but won't be available in stores or online until mid-December. (Pong Pong/Shutterstock)

One year after the legalization of cannabis, Alberta retailers and producers are gearing up for the introduction of edibles to the market but aren't sure what to expect.

"The regulations aren't very understood for us right now," said Jayne Kent, who co-owns a Spiritleaf cannabis store in St. Albert.

"We welcome the opportunity to get that literature to see what the products are and understand how they're going to work for consumers."

Health Canada has released its rules surrounding potency, packaging and marketing of edibles, but retailers haven't seen the final products. 

"It's a bit of a grey area," said Michael LeBlanc, manager of a Canna Cabana store on Parsons Road in Edmonton. 

"The agency has regulations around flavouring and enticing children, so I'm still curious about how they're going to roll out products like gummy bears or flavoured cookies."

While edibles will technically become legal on Oct. 17, they won't be available for purchase until mid-December, since licensed producers have to submit their products to Health Canada for a 60-day review. 

Despite the uncertainty, Aurora, an Edmonton based cannabis producer, has been investing in edibles for the last year. 

"We are extremely well-prepared for legalization 2.0," said Aurora chief corporate officer Cam Battley. 

The company is rolling out a diverse line of edibles, Battley said, ranging from vaping products to cannabis-infused beverages. 

"We are anticipating significant interest among adult consumers in the new product forms. It's a novelty."

'Pioneering an industry'

Edible products could translate into $2.7 billion worth of sales in the next year, according to Deloitte's June report on the country's cannabis industry.

LeBlanc hopes the launch of edibles will be smoother than the introduction of legal cannabis in October 2018, which led to stock shortages and delayed licences for retailers. 

"It's a bit of a wild west," he said. "I know we're pioneering an industry, so hopefully it gets rolled out pretty well."

Customers have a keen interest in cannabis edibles, says Jayne Kent, who co-owns a Spiritleaf store in St. Albert. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

Customers are excited, Kent said, and have been asking for more information. 

"People are curious, they really want to see what's coming." 

Regardless of the format edibles will take, providing accurate information to consumers will be crucial, she said. 

"It is a different way to consume cannabis and we need to be responsible about that," said Kent. 

Users should start with a small dose, LeBlanc said, and be aware of how cannabis can interact with other intoxicants, like alcohol.

"We make sure to pass that information along to the customers and always tell them 'start low and go slow.' " 

Industry tackles waste

Health Canada's strict rules are meant to keep cannabis out of the hands of children, but have also had unintended consequences. 

The fledgling industry is grappling with the waste it generates through packaging, which must be child-proof and tamper-evident.

It has motivated at least two companies, Canopy Growth and High Tide, to create their own recycling system, in partnership with recycling company TerraCycle. 

High Tide installed receptacles in its 25 Canna Cabana stores to collect empty packages, said chief operating officer Alex Mackay.

Every Canna Cabana store in Alberta participates in the recycling program offered by its parent company, High Tide. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

Customers have embraced the program, Mackay said, returning about 210,000 pieces of recycling as of September. 

"With what's going on with climate change, and awareness around the environment, people are really trying to have an impact at the grassroots level."

Restrictions around marketing are also perceived as excessive within the industry, said Battley. Producers and retailers are not currently allowed to advertise or promote their products.

He hopes Health Canada will loosen its rules over time to reflect the public's acceptance of legal cannabis. 

"Cannabis has become mainstream, quite normal, and that's a healthy thing," Battley said. 

"You're going to see that trend continue and that will be reflected, I believe, in the regulations surrounding cannabis in the future."