Pubdate: Thu, 09 Mar 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Grant Robertson
Page: A4


With the medical-marijuana industry caught in a tainted-cannabis scare
that Health Canada has yet to fully confront, one company has struck
out on its own to devise a solution to the controversy - and hopes the
rest of the sector will voluntarily follow suit.

Aurora Cannabis Inc., one of 38 federally licensed producers of
medical cannabis, is expected to announce on Thursday that it is
unveiling the industry's strictest consumer safety regime, testing all
of its products for contaminants at a federally accredited lab, then
making those certified test results public.

The program, which will test for moulds, bacteria, aflatoxins, heavy
metals and 51 pesticides, including banned substances such as
myclobutanil, goes beyond Health Canada requirements, and exceeds the
standards used by the rest of the sector by making the information
public on an continuing basis.

Some federally licensed companies in Canada's medical marijuana sector
test for contaminants, but don't make the data available for consumers
to see. Others don't test at all for substances such as dangerous
pesticides, because Health Canada does not require it.

Aurora is expected to table the new procedures at a meeting of the
Cannabis Canada Association on Thursday, urging the industry group's
14 other members to adopt similar consumer safety plans. The company
also hopes licensed producers who don't belong to the trade
association will adopt the same testing guidelines and make all of
their results public.

"It is imperative that patients have confidence in the safety of the
products they consume, and in the integrity of the medical cannabis
system. We believe our testing disclosure process will raise the bar
for the entire sector, and offer a model for other companies to
follow," Aurora chief executive Terry Booth said in a statement
accompanying the company's announcement, which was seen by The Globe
and Mail.

The move comes after the sector was hit by a series of recalls late
last year when the banned pesticide myclobutanil was found in products
sold by Organi Gram Inc. and Mettrum Ltd. The chemical produces
hydrogen cyanide when burned and can lead to serious health problems
if inhaled.

The recalls have raised serious questions about Health Canada's
oversight of the sector, since the regulator acknowledged to The Globe
that it hadn't required companies to test for banned pesticides,
because they should know the products are not permitted and therefore
should not be using them.

Since then, Health Canada has attached new conditions to the licences
of Organi Gram and Mettrum, requiring each company to test products
regularly. It also announced it would begin conducting random spot
checks on the rest of the sector.

However, with no regular testing, some patients told The Globe they
can't be sure if the products sold by the industry can be trusted.

In the wake of the recall, several companies have come out in favour
of bolstering testing requirements. Aphria Inc. said it would support
testing for banned pesticides to comfort consumers, while CanniMed
Therapeutics Inc. went a step further, saying it had independently
tested a quarter of its products for banned pesticides and was willing
to make the test results public to show it had passed. A company
spokeswoman said CanniMed is preparing to release that data soon.

Until now, no company had gone as far as Aurora, by testing all of its
products for pesticides then making the results available online. The
company is working with B.C.-based Anandia Labs Inc., a federally
accredited facility, and will post a two-page summary of each test
result, which will be certified by the lab.

Aurora said it has conducted such testing internally, but wanted to
start making the results public to reassure consumers. The company was
the one that detected the myclobutanil problems in OrganiGram's
products late last year after it purchased a bulk shipment from the
company, then had it tested before sending it out to patients. Had
Aurora not found the problem, the myclobutanil in OrganiGram's
products may not have been caught, since Health Canada had not been
monitoring for the pesticide.

Some companies, not wanting to criticize Health Canada publicly, have
complained privately in recent weeks that the entire industry was
being tarnished due to the myclobutanil recalls at OrganiGram and
Mettrum. The chemical is known as an effective but very dangerous
shortcut to ridding crops of mildew infestations, and its
manufacturer, Dow AgroSciences, warns against using it on cannabis.

Asked why the federal government isn't now introducing mandatory
testing on a regular basis for banned chemicals in medical marijuana,
which is often consumed by cancer patients and people with compromised
immune systems, Health Canada did not provide an answer.

The regulator did say it has concerns about the number of labs that
could perform the work and whether that would create a backlog for the
companies. However, a few licensed producers have said that stricter
testing requirements - along with public disclosure - would not be
onerous on their operations, nor would it be cost-prohibitive.
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