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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This BC Hydro map shows some of the power outages across Northern BC. Many were caused by high winds. (BC Hydro Website)
Power out across much of Northern BC

BC Hydro anticipates some may be without power overnight

Nuxalk elder Caroline Mack, 85, receives her first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 19, at the Nuxalk Hall. (Caitlin Thompson photo)
First vaccines roll out for Nuxalk elders, hospital staff and long-term care residents

The Moderna vaccine arrived in Bella Coola on Sunday, Jan. 17

Administering naloxone to a person experiencing a benzo-related overdose event won’t help. Naloxone is used to neutralize opioids. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress file photo)
Northern Health warning drug users of potential benzo contamination

The drug does not respond to naloxone, and is being included in street drugs

The ski hill is clearly marked as a no snowmobiling zone, but that hasn’t deterred sledders from ruining it for the second time this season (Patrick Gunderson photo)
Tweedsmuir Ski Hill wrecked by sledders for second time this season

The Club is respectfully requesting snowmobilers stay off the ski hill

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 cases climb to 52 as first vaccinations to begin Jan. 19

VCH has indicated vaccines will be available for off-reserve elders, but has not provided specifics

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

A new video from NCCIH and BC Northern Health titled ‘Healing in Pandemic Times: Indigenous Peoples, Stigma and COVID-19’ was animated by Joanne Gervais. (Photo Provided By: NCCIH Archives)
VIDEO: Stigma against Indigenous people is a ‘social sickness’

A new short animated video is aiming to educate the public on the stigmatization

Most Read