One year into adult-use legalization, the Canadian cannabis marketplace is finally poised to achieve its full potential
October 17, 2018, is a date that will forever stand out in the minds of Canadian cannabis consumers.
It was the day Canadian adults stopped being criminalized for consuming cannabis recreationally.
Becoming only the second country in the world to legalize adult-use cannabis was a massive milestone, and we all had a lot to celebrate when the one-year anniversary of that date arrived on October 17, 2019.
But although it’s fun to look back at the year that has just passed, many Canadians (including those in the cannabis industry), are looking forward to the upcoming year even more.
To mark the 1-year “Canna-versary” of adult-use legalization and the regulated industry it created, Health Canada lifted its ban on a whole range of cannabis-derived, value-added products and consumption formats.
Up until then, the legal marketplace was restricted to dried flower and some forms of cannabis oils and sprays.
The rule changes marking “Legalization 2.0” were officially implemented on October 17, 2019.
However, before any new products are allowed into the legal marketplace, they all must undergo a 60-day application and approval process.
Which means Canadians won’t be able to access any newly approved offerings until December 16, 2019, at the very earliest.
Health Canada’s website warns it could still take a while after that before anything resembling a full line of these on-deck products will be on offer:
“It will take time before new products become available.
You should only expect a limited selection of new products to appear gradually, in physical or online stores,
beginning no earlier than mid-December 2019.”
Since the potential for new value-added products containing cannabinoids is virtually limitless (cannabis hemorrhoid cream, anyone?), it’s likely that the ongoing process for approving new items will be never-ending.
As Health Canada performs its due diligence around testing and approving each and every product Canadian companies are seeking to sell in the regulated market, people probably shouldn’t expect Legalization 2.0 to really kick in until early 2020.
When the market for new products finally hits its stride, it is expected to produce a huge increase in legal cannabis sales (and take a big bite out of the black market).
In legalized states south of the border, value-added product formats represent a huge chunk of consumer cannabis purchases.
In Oregon, the combined sales of concentrates and edibles in 2018 totaled 43% of the total legal cannabis market.
As everyone waits patiently for Health Canada to approve new choices for consumers, we thought we’d whet your appetite a bit by offering a rundown of the different categories of new cannabis products being introduced to the market, as well as the specific rules governing each classification.
Vape Pens and Cartridges: Regulation is the Safe Solution
Under the new regulations, Canadians will be able to purchase extracted cannabis concentrate in the inhalable format of vaporizer pens (aka e-cigarettes), pre-filled vape pen cartridges, and as a pre-mixed vape liquid.
These products contain concentrated THC/CBD that has been extracted from cannabis and blended with a liquid thinning agent that vaporizes when exposed to low levels of heat (like steam, as opposed to creating smoke when burned).
There’s been a lot of negative attention recently directed towards this particular format for cannabis consumption.
A significant number of people in the USA have fallen ill after using vape pens/e-cigarettes, and some have even tragically passed away.
The black market is putting people’s lives at risk. Public health investigations are zeroing-in on how unregulated, counterfeit knock-offs of cannabis vape pen cartridges are causing respiratory illnesses.
Unscrupulous criminals are exploiting the popularity of the convenient, discrete, smell-free cannabis vape pen format, but are cutting their untested, unregulated vape liquids with dangerous substances like vitamin E acetate oil (which sounds harmless but can be deadly when it is heated and inhaled).
Good news: Testing and regulation is the solution! Although these developments have caused people to lose some confidence in the idea of consuming cannabis via vape pens and cartridges, Health Canada’s regulations are specifically designed to protect against these kinds of scenarios.
To illustrate, vitamin E acetate is completely banned from cannabis products regulated by Health Canada.
Under the new Legalization 2.0 rules, Canadians will be able to purchase safe, contaminant-free, lab-tested cannabis vape products from provincially licensed stores and online sales channels.
After becoming approved, the new offerings in this category should include:
– disposable, pre-loaded vape pens
– pre-filled vape pen cartridges for attaching to existing battery rigs
– THC/CBD infused “vape juice” for consumers to fill their own reusable tanks
The new Health Canada rules governing cannabis vaping products restrict THC levels to 1000 mg per unit and ban products with added nicotine or colouring.
Extracts & Concentrates: The Brave New World of Cannabis
Like many things these days, the cannabis experience is evolving as a result of its interaction with new technologies and modern techniques.
For a lot of tech-savvy cannabis consumers, good ol’ fashioned joints have been replaced by newfangled “wax pens” (portable vaporizers for solid concentrates).
For many others, hitting the bong has been replaced by the new ritual of “dabbing” (whereby a small amount of concentrated cannabis extract is placed on the end of a titanium “nail” and instantly combusted as soon as it touches a super-hot receptacle known as a “banger” [see example below, which includes a torch used for heating the spherical banger]).
Different formats for extracts and concentrates are largely determined by different methods for removing and isolating cannabinoids and terpenes from plant material.
Hashish: The original concentrate. Hash certainly isn’t a “new” product for many Canadian cannabis users (especially for those who’d identify as Old School!).
In fact, hashish has been produced and consumed for so many centuries there’s no definitive historical record of its first appearance in human civilization.
Hash is created by removing the resin-filled glands (known as the “trichomes”) from cannabis material and pressing them all together into a dense brown chunk.
Traditional hash-producing cultures like India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Morocco removed the trichomes from cannabis through a dry sifting method using fine mesh fabrics like silks.
More recently, a method for creating what is known as “Ice Water” or “Bubble” hash has been developed.
The trichomes are removed from flower or trim by rendering the product ice cold and agitating it in a cold-water bath (the trichomes are subsequently recovered by sieving the water).
Solvent-free extraction is gaining appeal. A revived interest in hash is currently underway, as more people are seeking out “solvent-free” extract options.
Hash can be turned into rosin. Rosin is a natural, solvent-free cannabis extract produced by pressing cannabis flower or hash between heated plates, typically using a pressurized device known as a “rosin press.”
Squishing the product under intense pressure and using heat basically melts off the cannabinoids and terpenes and transforms them into a consumable, gum-like substance.
Rosin can be further processed (or “whipped”) into other solid concentrate formats such as budder, wax or crumble, which can all be dabbed, or vaped on their own using a specialized concentrate vape pen.
Cannabinoids are regularly extracted using solvents. Several modern techniques use chemical solvents for extracting the cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis material and turning them into hash oil (some high-quality versions are known as “honey oil”).
Butane is banned. Butane Hash Oil (aka BHO) was a popular product during the prohibition era, but this form of extraction (along with those using other volatile hydrocarbons like propane) is prohibited under Legalization 2.0 due to the highly explosive nature of these solvents.
Alcohol is an approved solvent. Using isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, and methanol to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis material is an approved method for processing concentrates and tinctures under Health Canada’s industry regulations.
Supercritical CO2 is a widely used solvent. One of the most popular industrial methods for extracting cannabinoids utilizes extremely cold, high-pressure liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) circulated within a closed-loop system.
The CO2 method is widely applied to produce the cannabis oils typically used in the vape pens and cartridges mentioned above.
Solvent-extracted oils are the base for many next-level concentrate formats. Just like how rosin can be used to create solventless concentrates like budder and wax, cannabis oil which is extracted using solvents can also be used to create extremely potent concentrates.
– Shatter (an amber, glass-like substance named after its thin, delicate consistency)
– Live resin (a syrupy extract created using plants in their fresh/live form for enhanced terpenes)
– THCA crystals (created by isolating the precursor cannabinoid THCA, which becomes THC when subjected to sufficient heat) and “Diamonds in Sauce” or “Caviar” (THCA crystals floating in liquid terpenes)
Regardless of the format, or whether a concentrate was created using a solvent or a solventless method, Health Canada’s Legalization 2.0 regulations will limit THC to 1000 mg per package.
In addition to dabbing or vaping, concentrates can also be ingested by mouth via capsules or through a dosed syringe, in which case each dose is to be restricted to 10 mg of THC (as per Health Canada’s edibles regulations, more below).
Edibles: Eating Your Cannabis
There has also been quite a bit of controversy over the introduction of cannabis edibles into the legal marketplace.
One of the main reasons is due to public health concerns related to the common mistake of ingesting too much THC via edibles (mostly due to impatience over the long onset time and the lack of information about THC content).
Remember: “Start low and go slow.” To address this issue, Health Canada’s regulations stipulate a single package cannot contain more than 10 mg of THC (it could contain 2 units with 5 mg each, or 4 units with 2.5 mg, but the total cannot exceed 10 mg).
Safety for young people is key. Another issue that prompted Health Canada to take its time to get its edibles regulations right involved the potential appeal of edible cannabis products to children.
To address the risk of kids unknowingly eating cannabis-infused food, Health Canada will not approve any products deemed to be “appealing to youth.”
So, you’ll likely find plain gummy candies for sale once Legalization 2.0 rolls out, but they won’t be in the kid-attracting form of a gummy bear or a gummy worm.
And of course, as with all cannabis products, edibles will only be made available in child-resistant packaging.
Quebec won’t let people confuse edibles with treats. You might have seen news stories reporting on Quebec’s edibles regulations, which go far beyond Health Canada’s by banning anything with added flavours or colours as well as any product resembling a treat (including brownies, ice creams, candy, or cookies).
Outside of Quebec and products with kid appeal, the sky will pretty much be the limit for edible products to be introduced to the Canadian market (so long as they are “shelf-stable” which means sorry, no cannabis infused ice cream for anyone!).
If a License Holder comes up with a recipe for an infused salad dressing, or a cannabis chimichurri sauce, or cannabinoid-laden peanut butter, it should eventually get approved as long as it conforms with the regulations.
Topicals: Consuming through the Skin
Most seasoned cannabis consumers will have probably tried edibles or vape cartridges in the past, but it’s unlikely many will have tried cannabis topicals.
Ingesting cannabis through one’s skin is a totally novel format for most and can often be applied without experiencing a psychoactive effect.
For these reasons, topicals are generating a lot of attention and excitement.
The kinds of cannabis topicals you could expect to start appearing on the Canadian market by the end of the year might include any of the following:
– Skin creams, oils, balms, salves, sprays
– Transdermal patches
– Vaginal/rectal suppositories
– Bath bombs
– Hair and nail care products
According to Health Canada’s Legalization 2.0 regulations, each unit of a topical product can have a maximum of 1000 mg of THC, and there is no limit on the amount of CBD a topical product can contain.
Cannabis topical products can also include essential oils and other natural ingredients.
The producers and retailers of these products will not be able to advertise health or cosmetic claims.
Drinkables: A non-alcoholic option
The final category of products Canadians can expect to see soon on the shelves of their local cannabis retail store (or provincial online sales platform like the Ontario Cannabis Store) are cannabinoid-infused drinks.
There’s been a lot of buzz about the upcoming unveiling of cannabis-based beverages, especially after a series of huge beer and spirits corporations partnered up with several Canadian Licence Holders.
Creating cannabis-infused bevvies that don’t taste horrible has been a challenge up until now, but substantial industry R&D has resulted in new formulations that are predicted to be appealing to consumers.
The innovations around drinkable cannabis formats go beyond merely making them palatable.
The word on the street (and news from south of the border) is that new quick-uptake, water-soluble beverage formats have been developed where it takes only a minute or two for the infused cannabinoids to take effect (rather than the hour or two it often takes with typical edibles).
The rules for cannabis drinks fall under the same category as edible cannabis, which means the maximum THC for each package will be 10 mg (and no limit placed on CBD content).
It is predictable there will be options like a 4-pack of infused drinks with 2.5 mg of THC each, as well as single “shots” with 10 mg of THC apiece.
Cannabis beverages mixed with alcohol are completely banned under Legalization 2.0 and even the use of terms associated with alcohol (like “wine” or “beer” or “margarita”) are also against Health Canada’s rules.
Cannabis in Canada: Not just flower anymore!
Legalization 2.0 – and the whole new range of cannabinoid-laden products it ushers in – will finally come online in mid-December.
This holiday season will be a good time for many Canadians to do some personal product testing to determine whether these newly approved cannabis consumption formats work for them.
And if you’re trying a product for the first time remember the mantra – “Start low and go slow!”
Please share your experiences with the new Legalization 2.0 products in the comments below, we’d love to hear your stories!