Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jul 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Grant Robertson and Greg McArthur
Page: A1

The Globe subjected storefront weed to lab analysis to see whether
it's safe. But it's illegal for shoppers and store owners to do the


Health Canada's restrictive approach to marijuana safety testing is
putting the public at risk, a growing chorus of scientists and
activists warns - saying consumers are potentially being exposed to
contamination in products that are widely accessible since the federal
Liberals took power promising legalization.

A number of laboratories accredited by Health Canada say the regulator
has repeatedly discouraged them from analyzing any cannabis that does
not come directly from one of the country's 31 licensed medical
marijuana producers - even as hundreds of dispensaries have sprouted
up in Vancouver and Toronto, flooding the market with products of
unknown provenance. Patients' requests to have their federally
licensed medical marijuana tested to ensure its safety are also blocked.

Testing done for The Globe and Mail showed that three of nine samples
of dried cannabis from nine unregulated dispensaries would not meet
Health Canada's safety standards for licensed growers.

Hubert Marceau, one of the owners of a lab in Saguenay, Que., that is
accredited to analyze marijuana, said his facility has received at
least a dozen requests from doctors, patients and dispensaries that
want to know more about the contents of cannabis from both regulated
and unregulated sources to ensure it is safe and free of

The lab has waited as long as eight months for responses to requests
for guidance from Health Canada, Mr. Marceau said - and when they
come, they are usually imprecise.

"I asked: Can we test for physicians? Can we test for patients? And
always the answer was either fuzzy, or we are waiting for more
information, or I'm forwarding you to whatever department - and we
often didn't get any answers."

Mr. Marceau said the ordeal has been frustrating: "Take a clear
direction. Either go all in, or all out."

Medical marijuana: Does research back up claims of therapeutic

On Thursday, The Globe and Mail published the results of an
investigationinto the contents of marijuana from nine unregulated
Toronto dispensaries. Three of the nine samples of dried cannabis
tested would not meet Health Canada's safety standards for the
companies it licenses to grow for medical users. The investigation
also revealed that labs have been warned not to test samples provided
by anyone other than a licensed producer - a threat taken so seriously
that the lab that tested for The Globe did so on condition that the
newspaper would not identify the facility.

Health Minister Jane Philpott could not be reached for comment on the

Mr. Marceau said that, when the current medical marijuana laws came
into effect in 2013, it seemed a natural fit for his business,
Laboratoire PhytoChemia. The lab, which specializes in the chemistry
of natural products, can pinpoint the amount of THC - the intoxicating
compound in marijuana - and cannabidiol - the non-psychoactive,
therapeutic compound - in a sample. But when consumers started asking
his lab to test marijuana that had been produced under the previous
legal regime, no one could give a clear answer.

Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver lawyer who has argued several marijuana cases
that have forced the government to change regulations, said he
represented one lab that was told by Health Canada to stay away from
unregulated cannabis.

"On one hand, we hear repeatedly from government, from Health Canada,
that the cannabis that people grow for themselves, or that they
purchase from dispensaries, is unsafe - largely because it is untested
and of uncertain quality," Mr. Tousaw said. "So if it believes it to
be true, then by preventing labs from testing for home producers or
patients, they're actually creating harm and creating risk to
critically and chronically ill Canadians, which is cynical and
hypocritical to say the least."

Mr. Marceau said he also sought a legal opinion on the matter. The
Globe spoke to officials at two other labs who said they have been
frustrated in their efforts to get guidance from Health Canada on
testing for safety.

The Globe's investigation found several different kinds of pathogenic
bacteria in the dispensary samples, including one that also contained
high levels of potentially harmful yeasts and mould, which can lead to
serious health concerns if consumed. The operators of two dispensaries
whose products failed the tests said they would have pulled it had
they known of the contaminants.

The government said in June it has concerns about dispensary products,
but has not made access to safety testing a priority because it
considers the product illegal.

"These operations are illegally supplied, and provide products that
are untested, unregulated and that may be unsafe," the ministers of
health, justice and public safety said in a statement while announcing
a federal task force on marijuana legalization.

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The Globe's investigation

As the federal government explores how to properly legalize marijuana,
hundreds of dispensaries have sprung up in Vancouver and Toronto - all
of them selling a product that is still illegal and having no
obligations in terms of labelling, safety or quality assurance.

Dispensary proponents say concerns about contaminants amount to fear
mongering - akin to the sort of propaganda that brought the world the
infamous 1936 film Reefer Madness. The government favours a heavily
regulated market and argues that dispensaries can't be trusted to
provide consumers with a sterile and safe product. These
entrepreneurs, Ottawa argues, need to be held to the same stringent
standards required of the 31 companies licensed to sell medical
marijuana to consumers through mail order. Throughout all of this
debate, no one has tried to scientifically analyze the quality of the
cannabis being openly sold over the counter in Canada's major urban
centres. Until now.

The Globe and Mail procured nearly 400 grams of dried cannabis flower
from nine Toronto dispensaries in the hopes of determining what
exactly is in the pot that has suddenly become so accessible. The
findings show that much of the rhetoric on both sides is inaccurate
and misleading: Samples from three dispensaries would not be permitted
for sale if they were held to the same standards that Ottawa imposes
on licensed medical-marijuana producers.

But The Globe's investigation also found that some of those standards
have been inappropriately mandated by Health Canada, and there is much
debate over how much of a risk those failing samples actually pose.
And although Ottawa has publicly praised the virtues of a tested
product, behind the scenes the government has actively discouraged
laboratories from helping people ensure whether their dispensary
marijuana is safe.

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Read the Globe's full investigation at
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