Delaying legal edible cannabis products won't keep them off street, MPs told

MPs studying the government's cannabis legalization bill heard Friday that excluding edible products from next year's planned rollout will mean the black market will continue to supply them. A final day of witnesses also included pot activists Jodie and Marc Emery.

Commons health committee closes out a marathon week of testimony on Bill C-45

Jodie Emery, long-time marijuana activist and co-owner of Cannabis Culture, holds up a joint while testifying before the Commons health committee studying the government's pot legalization bill Friday. (CBC)

A B.C. pot activist and dispensary owner told MPs studying the government's cannabis legalization bill Friday that excluding edible cannabis products from next year's planned rollout will mean the black market will continue to supply them.

"If the government is not going to allow edibles and extracts, we're going to continue to sell them through dispensaries, through the black market. They will be unregulated, but we do our best to make sure these products are safe and labelled," Dana Larsen told MPs on the House of Commons health committee.

In its current form, Bill C-45 does not include the legalization of edible cannabis products, and the government has said it would deal with those products at a later date. The plan is that on July 1, 2018, adults will be allowed to purchase fresh and dried cannabis, cannabis oils and seeds and plants for cultivation at home.

Edible cannabis products often contain THC, the psychoactive substance that makes consumers feel "high". Edibles can come in many forms, including baked goods, candy, honey and dried fruit.

Larsen told the committee that dispensaries do their best given the constraints of legality.

"A lot of the fear-mongering around edibles and extracts simply hasn't materialized in Vancouver, or Toronto, or other cities that have dozens of dispensaries. We are not really seeing a lot of problems coming out of this, and that's an unregulated, self-regulated market. If we have some proper rules in place, problems will be minimal," said Larsen.

Dana Larsen, a B.C. pot activist and dispensary owner, tells MPs that the black market will continue to supply cannabis products if they are not included in the legal rollout next summer. (CBC)

Colorado's experience with edibles

Daniel Vigil, who manages the Marijuana Health Monitoring and Research Program in Colorado's Health Department, said that since legalization in 2012, the state has seen an increase in poison centre calls related to marijuana.

"For adults, it is about equal numbers edible and smokeable products, which is actually disproportionate because more product is smoked in Colorado," said Vigil.

Ultimately, Vigil said, he thinks edible cannabis products should be included in legalization, "but it is very important to get it right. And if that takes some time and some learning from the smoked market, then I would be in agreement with that."

Edible vs. smokeable

"When we give people smoked cannabis versus edible cannabis the magnitude of drug effects and the types of effects are identical," Ryan Vandrey, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies the dose effects of cannabis on the human body, told MPs. "I have not seen any evidence that eating it is more dangerous than smoking it."

Vandrey said the main difference is in how long it takes a user to feel the effects. For edibles, he said the onset of effects are initially felt 30 minutes after consumption and peak at about 90 minutes. 

Total duration of the high is determined by dose, but Vandrey said it typically lasts between six to eight hours.

"My personal recommendation would be in favour of regulation and quality control over all products. I think that is the greater public good rather than just allowing one version and continuing to have black market product available," said Vandrey.

Pot-infused brownies are divided and packaged at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder, Colo. Under Bill C-45, edibles will remain illegal in Canada for now. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

Emery: 'You've got a big disaster coming'

The committee also heard from Marc and Jodie Emery, longtime marijuana activists who co-own the illicit dispensary chain Cannabis Culture. The Emerys are highly critical of the legalization framework put forth by the federal government.

"If the production is controlled federally, distribution provincially, storefronts and policing municipally — of course you've got a big disaster coming," Jodie Emery told the committee. "If the provinces have to wait on the federal government to supply cannabis, the provincial government stores are going to not have any product on the shelf."

Jodie told the committee that if the government allows the provinces to set up "pot monopolies" it will "force every taxpayer to subsidize a multi-hundred-million-dollar government bureaucracy."

"Why can they not allow the people that have grown and sold and loved this plant, why can't they allow us to come forward and come out of the shadows? Why do you continue to criminalize us?" Jodie asked the committee.

​Marc Emery told the committee he would encourage everybody to boycott government stores, going so far as to physically try to stop people from going in and telling people they are "traitors" if they shop at these stores.

Earlier today, New Brunswick announced it has formed a Crown corporation to oversee the sales of recreational marijuana.

Ontario revealed last Friday the sale of recreational cannabis in that province will be overseen by a subsidiary of the LCBO — a Crown corporation that conducts the sale of alcohol beverages.