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Edibles Are Now Available as Part of Cannabis Legalization, Here's What You Need to Know

A look at what products are available, how they're made and what regulations are in place

A stack of cookies sit next to a cannabis bud

Now that edible cannabis products such as gummies and chocolates are legal, you may have some questions. Here’s what you need to know.

What types of edibles are legal?

While brightly coloured candies and bear-shaped gummies have been popular on the black market, consumers of legal edibles can expect a less vibrant array of goods. According to Tammy Jarbeau, senior media relations advisor at Health Canada, the Cannabis Regulations Act sets strict requirements on the classes of cannabis that can be sold. For example, cannabis edibles that mimic familiar food items, that are packaged like candy or that would otherwise be appealing to children are prohibited. Expect items like mints, chocolates and gummies in plain forms such as half-spheres and squares.

What types of edibles aren’t allowed?

Cannabis edibles containing meat, poultry and fish or items requiring refrigeration are prohibited. This is because dried products pose a lower food-safety risk than raw products. Cannabis-infused alcohol and cannabis products that also contain tobacco, nicotine or caffeine are prohibited as well, but up to 30 milligrams of naturally occurring caffeine (such as in chocolate) is allowed. Health Canada hasn’t yet stipulated if there are certain colours, shapes or flavours that will be prohibited, as products are approved on a case-by-case basis.

Where and how are edibles sold?

As with dried cannabis, the sale of edible products is regulated by each province. Quebec is the only province that has not approved the sale of edible products (aside from edible oils and butters), citing a public-health concern over the appeal of such products to children. Otherwise, each province or territory governs its own sales of cannabis. Depending on the province, cannabis may be sold at government-run or -licensed stores, and online through government-run or -approved sites.

How and where are these products made?

Edibles are made by licensed producers that have sought out an additional processing licence to manufacture, package and label edible cannabis products. If the production facility making cannabis edibles also makes conventional food products, the cannabis products have to be made in a separate building. This is to prevent cross-contamination between ingredients and products, and decrease the risk of product mix-ups and mislabelling.

What food-safety protocols and regulations are in place?

Facilities manufacturing cannabis edibles need to follow food-safety regulations and sanitation guides set out by the Cannabis Act and enforced by Health Canada. For example, facilities need to have adequate ventilation systems to prevent the escape of odours and cleaning protocols for equipment used to transport cannabis and cannabis edibles.

How do producers ensure the potency of edibles is consistent?

Producers typically make their products by infusing a food item with a specific amount of cannabinoid oil that’s been tested to measure the amount of THC (the component of cannabis that causes psychoactive effects) or CBD (the component that offers a “body high” and potential pain relief). This allows manufacturers to have precise control over the amount of THC and CBD going into each item. Once the products are made, batches usually go through another round of testing to ensure that they contain the potency stated on the package.

As a consumer, how can I decode the potency of edibles?

If you’re new to edibles, it’s important to know that your body’s reaction to them is much different than its reaction to smoking. Health Canada recommends novice consumers “start low and go slow.” Producers will not be required to list recommended dosages, but edibles can contain up to a maximum of 10 milligrams of THC per individually packaged item and 1,000 milligrams of THC per container. Beginners should look for dosages of 2.5 milligrams of THC or less to start and an equal or higher amount of CBD. It can take between 30 minutes and two hours for the edibles to kick in, up to four hours to feel the full effects, and up to 12 hours for the effects to wear off. Because of this, overconsuming edibles is much easier to do than smoking too much and can have greater negative effects on your body, sometimes making you feel like you’re having a panic attack—all the more reason to go low and slow if it’s something you’re trying for the first time.

The dangers of mixing edibles and driving

While edibles may be legal, they’re not something that can be mixed with driving, road-safety experts warn. Unlike smoked or vaped marijuana, edible cannabis can take hours for your body to metabolize. As a result, there’s a danger that people will get behind the wheel thinking they’re fine, only to be hit mid-drive by an overwhelming high, says Teresa Di Felice, the assistant vice-president of government and community relations with CAA South Central Ontario.

“We’re not here to judge what you consume; cannabis is a legal product now,” she says. “What we’re saying is, don’t get behind the wheel after you’ve consumed cannabis, or any other substance that affects your ability to drive.”

A growing body of research is showing that cannabis can dramatically impair your ability to drive, impacting your coordination, slowing your reaction time and affecting your capacity to judge distance. Many Canadians, though, aren’t aware of those dangers. A recent study commissioned by CAA found that approximately 1.2 million Ontario drivers have gotten behind the wheel while high. The same study found that 12 per cent of Ontario drivers who are non-cannabis users say they are very or somewhat likely to try edible cannabis after it becomes legal.

“Now you have people who have never tried edibles and are going to be using them for the first time,” Di Felice says. “We’re trying to get the word out that it’s a very different high than what you might expect, so plan a safe ride home.”

Learn more

To learn more about cannabis-impaired driving, click here

Image credit: Margo Amala/Unsplash