Vaping. (Pixabay)

Vaping. (Pixabay)

Pot legalization has gone ‘well’, but ‘yellow flags’ on vaping: task force chair

Canada legalized cannabis for non-medical use on Oct. 17, 2018,

The former lead of the federally appointed task force for the legalization of cannabis says the first year has gone “extremely well” but there are “yellow flags veering to red” on vaping as laws governing the next wave of pot products come into force.

Anne McLellan, the former deputy prime minister and head of the team of experts assembled by the Liberal government to make recommendations on how recreational pot should be legalized, said the growing number of vaping-related illnesses on both sides of the border is giving her pause.

“Do we get to red, as a federal regulator whose first priorities are health and safety of the consuming public?” she said in an interview.

“I don’t know but we’re certainly, I think, at yellow, based on what we’re seeing out of the U.S. and some of what we’re seeing in Canada.”

Her comments come roughly one year after Canada legalized cannabis for non-medical use on Oct. 17, 2018, making it the first major industrialized country in the world to take the landmark step.

The rollout was plagued by product shortages and supply chain bottlenecks that lasted for months. While Canadians in provinces such as Alberta and Newfoundland have broad access to legal pot at dozens of stores, Ontario did not have a single legal pot store until April of this year.

READ MORE: Talk to your kids about vaping, B.C.’s top doctor says

READ MORE: First case of ‘probable’ vaping-related illness in B.C. ‘not surprising’: UBC prof

Supply issues have largely been resolved and the number of licensed cannabis providers has grown to more than 500 — though not all are up and running — but the distribution is uneven across the country.

McLellan, who is senior advisor for law firm Bennett Jones, said there are aspects of the rollout that people can, and have, criticized, but “perfection was never going to be possible.”

“The last time we did this was with the end of liquor prohibition, and dare I say, no one in this country was alive to see or understand how that took place. That took years to create a regularized, normalized legal market around liquor,” she said.

“So I think we’re doing extremely well, even with the bumps along the road.”

With its recommended legalization framework, the federal cannabis task force sought to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use, provide adult access to a regulated supply of cannabis while reducing the scope and scale of the illicit market.

Recent figures from Statistics Canada show, however, that a large proportion of Canadians continue to turn to the black market.

While Canadian household spending on legally purchased pot has grown since legalization, two thirds of pot purchases continue to be illicit. In the second quarter, household expenditures on legal pot was $443 million, up from $172 million in the fourth quarter of 2018. But illicit pot expenditures were $918 million in the second quarter, down from $1.17 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, but still a far cry from stamping out the black market.

Higher pot price tags are likely a factor.

The latest analysis of crowdsourced data gathered by Statistics Canada show that the cost of pot has dropped to about $7.37 per gram in the second quarter as both legal and illegal pot retailers cut their price. But illicit pot remains significantly cheaper at an average of $5.59 per gram compared to $10.23 per gram of legal weed.

Thus far, legalization has “worked pretty seamlessly” in Alberta, McLellan said.

The province had a distinct advantage because its entire alcohol business is privatized, and regulators could apply a similar framework to cannabis, she added.

“There is a culture here that speaks to the fact that our liquor and gaming authority was used to working with the private sector, and the private sector was used to working with the liquor and gaming commission,” she said.

Alberta has about 300 licensed cannabis providers, not all of which are up and running, compared with 24 open shops in Ontario, where the Progressive Conservative government changed the distribution model from public to private after their election in June 2018.

Another issue casting a shadow over the legal cannabis industry is alleged regulatory breaches by pot producer CannTrust Holdings Inc., whose licences were stripped by Health Canada in recent months over allegations of illegal cultivation.

McLellan said those who break the rules need to be called out to “defend the integrity of the regime” and she was “glad to see” that regulators did so.

CannTrust’s situation “certainly has not been helpful,” she said.

“One of the reasons (consumers) are willing to pay a premium from the street, the illegal market, is because they have quality assurance,” she said. “Well, how does that sit with having product being sold at retail from unlicensed grow rooms? … This is not good for the industry.”

Canada has now legalized what’s been dubbed cannabis 2.0, with new legislation governing next-generation pot products such as edibles, beverages, topicals and vaping coming into force as of Thursday.

The products won’t hit shelves until mid-December at the earliest, due to a mandatory requirement for companies to provide 60-day notice to Health Canada of their intent to sell them.

Meanwhile, the number of vaping-related lung injury cases in the U.S. has surpassed 1,400, and there are now 33 deaths, according to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. The first Canadian was diagnosed in Quebec last month and Health Canada has said that other cases are believed to be linked to the practice, but are still being evaluated by provincial authorities. British Columbia this week confirmed its first probably case of vaping-related illness, and the province’s health officer says she expects there to be more.

While the cause remains unclear, the CDC has warned that people should not use e-cigarettes or vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound found in pot that gives people a high.

A Health Canada spokesman said in an emailed statement that it is monitoring the situation in the U.S. and Canada, and that additives such as vitamins — vitamin E acetate is one suspected culprit — are prohibited from use in cannabis vaping products. He added that it “will take additional action, if warranted and as appropriate, to protect the health and safety of Canadians.”

McLellan, a former health minister, said she doesn’t have any direct insight into what regulatory authorities are planning.

“Certainly, based on what we have seen… there is sufficient evidence now that further investigation has to be done.”

READ MORE: B.C. public safety minister says cannabis edibles not in stores til January

Armina Ligaya, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Shoes and toys were placed by the altar at the Circle of Indigenous Nations of Castlegar Indigenous Peoples Day gathering on Monday. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar Indigenous Peoples Day gathering focuses on remembering

Occasion was more somber than previous years

Manager Cora Muellner (left) and employee Rachel Ronson at Buddy’s Place in Nelson. Muellner is among local cannabis retailers welcoming changes to provincial regulations. Photo: Tyler Harper
Nelson cannabis retailers welcome provincial changes to delivery, hiring options

As of July 15, private retailers can deliver their products to your door

Waneta Manor is located on Laburnum Drive in Trail. Photo: Sheri Regnier
New elevator coming to Trail manor this summer, says head manager

The elevator in Waneta Manor has been out of commission since February

Greater Trail barrel racer Hunter Weishaupt will race for a coveted spot in the Calgary Stampede
West Kootenay barrel racer takes run at Stampede

Hunter Weishaupt is inviting sponsors to get on board in her quest to compete in Calgary Stampede

Refusals to wear masks had Trail police called to two separate scenes on Saturday. Photo: Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash
Trail police called to mask confrontations

The Province of BC has masks being mandatory indoors

A person stands in a tower on the perimeter of the Number 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 23, 2021. Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Schiefelbein
VIDEO: Trudeau demands truth from China about Uyghurs

PM says Canada has admitted broken Indigenous relationship, unlike China on Uyghurs

CELEBRATING INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY
Council members and witnesses from the Hupacasath First Nation, left, and Tseshaht First Nation, right, prepare to raise their respective flags in front of Port Alberni City Hall on Monday, June 21, 2021. The flags will permanently fly as part of the city’s reconciliation work. See more coverage from the flag raising ceremony on page A5. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Vancouver Island First Nations flags to fly permanently at city hall

Addition of flags are one Port Alberni response to reconciliation

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, middle right, participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honour of the launch of Kelowna’s plasma donor centre at Orchard Plaza Mall on June 22. From left to right: Canadian Blood Services’ business development manager Janna Pantella, Canadian Blood Services’ operational excellence manager Tyler Burke, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Canadian Blood Services’ centre manager Janine Johns. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
B.C.’s first dedicated plasma donor centre opens in Kelowna

The Kelowna location is the third dedicated plasma donor to open in Canada

Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back to school on Sept. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Study reassures parents, teachers that COVID-19 infrequently shared at school

Federally funded study in Vancouver finds risk in the classroom and in the community identical

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Single-game sports betting about to become legal in Canada

Senate passes bill to take sports gambling away from overseas agencies

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

B.C. conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter said a black bear is believed to have killed local livestock. (THE NEWS/files)
Black bear believed to have killed miniature donkey in Maple Ridge

Trap set for predator that has been killing livestock

Most Read