Pubdate: Fri, 15 Sep 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Sylvain Charlebois
Page: A11


Provincial plan on selling pot is silent on the issue of
cannabis-infused food products

Ontario deserves some credit for forging ahead with guidelines for its
legal marijuana distribution system, but the province's plan is filled
with ambiguities and unknowns.

Ontario is the first province to define how it intends to sell
nonmedicinal marijuana to the public. About 150 stores across the
province will be operated by a division of the Liquor Control Board of
Ontario (LCBO).

Marijuana won't be sold alongside wine or liquor, but in separate
stores, as was recommended by a parliamentary committee earlier this

Private-sector marijuana retailing seems to be off the table - only a
Crown corporation will sell to the public. That's not surprising,
given what's happened with the sale of alcohol over the last few
decades in Ontario.

Like beer and wine, marijuana will eventually be available through
privately-owned retailers. However, little about cannabis is
straightforward. Social stigmas related to cannabis use remain, so the
Ontario government decided the public isn't yet ready for private

After all, cannabis has been illegal in Canada since 1923. Cannabis is
the most widely used illicit drug in the developed world. Its use has
long been associated with negative social and economic outcomes. We
need to get used to the notion that it's a legal part of everyday life.

Ontario has set the minimum legal age for purchasing marijuana at

But there are few specifics on pricing or costs. The government was
completely tight-lipped on many facets of a highly complex marijuana

Most important, no consideration has been given to edible cannabis
products or how these products will be marketed.

Nor have guidelines for home cultivation and use been contextualized,
especially for households with children. Cooking at home with
marijuana, for example, can be tricky.

What's more, the food service industry and restaurants were not even
mentioned in the announcement.

So how will legalizing marijuana for recreational use affect food in
general? The province says it won't allow edibles, for now. But the
black market will fill the gap and may impact everything the province
is trying to achieve in mitigating public risk.

Since the federal government announced that marijuana would be
legalized starting July 2018, several food companies and distributors
have been considering commercializing cannabis-infused products.

Edible products are tremendously popular in other markets where
marijuana is legal. In some U.S. states, consumers can purchase a
variety of marijuana-infused food products, from fudge, cookies and
brownies to hard candies, gelato and gummy bears.

Some food products, like brownies, have long been a staple of cannabis
coffee shops in some parts of the world. But the new products are
quite different and may be deceiving. They're skilfully produced and
packaged to closely mimic popular candies and other sweets.

Making cannabis more readily available to children, especially in
edible forms, represents significant risks. Research shows marijuana
use can damage children's brain development. It can also harm fetuses
when used by pregnant women.

Failing to establish a policy framework related to edibles, or
pretending the problem doesn't exist, will only lead to more future

The stigma of marijuana use clearly got the better of the Ontario
government. Looking at retailing the product is one thing. But it
needed to consider all the various applications beyond the basic
exchange between seller and customer. Instead, Ontario has adopted an
excessively prudent, incremental strategy and that's

The food service industry is considering its options but it needs some
government policy clarity. Some provincial guidance would also serve
the public well, particularly since many wonder how marijuana, as a
legal food ingredient, could impact society. Risks associated with the
use of marijuana in food haven't been clearly articulated.

Governments may see the legalization of recreational marijuana as a
new, substantial source of revenue. That revenue will likely motivate
Ontario to reconsider its options related to marijuana food products.

But as the province grows its addiction to marijuana tax revenues, and
as it no doubt adds retail outlets, it should develop clear guidelines
for edible products, and for marijuana as a food ingredient for
domestic use.

Otherwise, the underground market will fill the gap, and that's hardly
a desirable outcome.

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Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Institute for 
Market Studies, dean of the Faculty of Management and a professor in the 
Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University, and author of Food 
Safety, Risk Intelligence and Benchmarking, published by Wiley-Blackwell 
(2017). Distributed by Troy Media
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