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

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press Media file
Port Hardy RCMP on the hunt for porta-pottie arsonist

The porta-potties were lit on fire early in the morning on June 13

Eke Me-Xi students enjoy a field trip to Malcolm Island. (Submitted photos)
Eke Me-Xi Learning Centre takes field trip to Malcolm Island

Once at Bere Point, students made themselves at home in the day-use area

Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair logo
Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair cancelled again due to COVID-19 restrictions

The 2022 fall fair is still scheduled to take place in Port Hardy

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding parnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Most Read