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

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Cases have gone up in Northern Health in the past week, as they have all over B.C. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
Northern Health reports new highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

Nineteen cases were reported to Public Health last Tuesday (Nov. 17)

FILE – British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Masks now mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces in B.C.

Many retailers and businesses had voiced their frustration with a lack of mask mandate before

(Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared Thursday.
COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site

14 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at this time

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Fatty Legs co-author responds to Abbotsford class assignment on residential schools

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
B.C. man defends his family against intruder, saves neighbour while wielding hockey stick

RCMP looking for footage that captures violent crime spree in Chilliwack

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Harbour seals rest on log booms at Flavelle Mill in Port Hardy. With recent announcements the mill will be getting rid of the log booms, Dr. David Rosen sees an opportunity to study how the disappearance of this highly-frequented refuge for the seals will alter their behaviour in Burrard Inlet. (Photo supplied by David Rosen)
What the heck is going on with marine mamals in Vancouver waterways?

UBC researcher asks why they’re returning, and what role we’re playing

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009. (RCMP photo)
Human remains found off U.S. coast in 2009 identified as Penticton man

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009

Most Read