Cross Country Checkup

Cannabis candies will stay off-limits after marijuana legalization — and that's a mistake: researcher

Food policy researcher Sylvain Charlebois found that more than half of Canadians would be willing to try cannabis-based cuisine. But when marijuana is legalized this year, those edibles will still be off-limits.

'You want to make sure that risks are properly conveyed to the general public,' says food policy researcher

Edibles are becoming increasingly popular, but they won't be legal alongside marijuana in 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

Put away the gummy bears, lollipops and chocolate bars — at least the ones containing THC.

When marijuana is legalized in Canada this year, edibles won't be included on the approved list in 2018.

That's a mistake, according to Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax. In a survey he co-authored, he found that more than half of Canadians are willing to try edibles if they're legalized.

"So, when C-45 [the bill allowing legal access to cannabis] didn't include edibles, it was shortsighted because a lot of people would be willing to try," Charlebois told Checkup host Duncan McCue.

Marijuana edibles are displayed at the Apothecary Shoppe marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas. (Steve Marcus/Associated Press)

On Sunday, McCue asked callers whether they were ready for legal marijuana. Legislation allowing access to marijuana was expected to pass by July 1 of this year. The timeline has since been pushed back to at least August.

And so-called edibles, it seems, are a contentious issue.

"A lot of people out there aren't necessarily comfortable with the idea of legalizing cannabis but if you want to do it right, you got to include edibles," Charlebois said.

Candy that's not for children

Despite their illegal status, "you can buy edibles online and get these products delivered to your home in Canada," Charlebois said. Today, the industry goes well beyond brownies and cookies.

Candy infused with cannabis is proving popular, and experts and regulators are worried about how they're used and who's buying them.

"Once we published our study, we actually met Health Canada twice and there were questions around dosage, packaging, labelling," Charlebois told Checkup.

"You want to make sure that risks are properly conveyed to the general public."

Sylvain Charlebois is a professor of food policy at Dalhousie University.

Packaging is something Canada can look toward other countries for guidance on.

When certain U.S. states legalized cannabis-based edibles alongside marijuana, mistakes were made, according to Charlebois. The process "just went too quickly," he said.

"A lot of states now disallow the production of children-friendly products, which I think is desirable for Canada just to make sure that no accidents do occur."

How much is too much?

The appropriate dosing of edibles remains unclear as well. How many gummy bears is too many, asked McCue.

"Many people would not know much about cannabis but they would be cooking with it without knowing exactly what to do with it," Charlebois said.

A caregiver points out the strength of an edible marijuana candy bar at a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver. File photo. (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press)

Checkup caller Jim Kohut from Spence's Bridge, B.C., told McCue that Health Canada should be responsible for regulating the amount of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — to ensure safe use.

Kohut points to strains currently sold at dispensaries as a reason for concern.

"If some guy is buying a strain of marijuana — let's say, like 'Black Beauty' — from one dispenser, then goes to another dispenser, that 'Black Beauty' might be something totally different and have different THC contents," he said.

"If the Canadian Food Inspection Agency requested genome sequencing of strains and licensed those strains, we can ensure a much safer marijuana supply for the market."

'A complicated beast'

While questions remain, Charlebois believes the government is moving at an appropriate pace.

But with a tight timeline, there are many industries that need to be examined.

"The food industry is a complicated beast," he said. "Restaurants actually do need a framework as well."

As the concerns — and regulations — become more clear, however, the pot economy in Canada will change.

"Right now, we're a very immature, uneducated market related to cannabis but in 10, 20 years from now things are going to be very, very different."

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Anna-Liza Kozma.