In a feature length investigation, The Globe and Mail tested samples of dried cannabis from nine different Toronto dispensaries, putting them to the same standards that Health Canada requires of licensed medical producers.
Looking for chemicals, moulds and bacteria, the accredited lab used by the paper found that six of the nine samples met or exceeded the standards set in place by the government.
Microbiologists argued that, while some of the bacteria found in the product was undesirable, it would unlikely cause harm to users with healthy immune systems and that the heat generated from smoking would kill microorganisms.
But the article, which can be accessed behind a paywall, stressed that, clean or not, dispensaries and cannabis producers are unable to openly test their products at accredited labs and rely on self-regulation.
The Globe was unable to name the lab they used, “for fear that the federal government would sanction the lab and revoke its licence, despite performing a valuable public service.”
Sources reportedly told The Globe that Health Canada is actively discouraging labs away from testing for labs or individuals.
“There’s definitely dispensaries out there that are not following best practices that desperately need to be regulated,” said Cannabis Growers of Canada executive director Ian Dawkins said. “They [the federal government] are constantly scaring the labs by threatening to pull their accreditation. … The idea that we weren’t willing to [have product tested] is completely ludicrous.”
The authors said the lack of oversight for the industry was “a huge loophole.”
“The federal government has essentially watched as an industry has flourished, while giving consumers no protection – and no ability to protect themselves,” Robertson and McArthur wrote.
The Globe also pointed out that Health Canada’s testing methods may not be looking at the more dangerous contaminants — pesticides.
“Because cannabis has been illegal for many decades, there’s been very little research on what was the best way to test the plant for cleanliness and efficacy,” the article stated. “Some of the microbiologists who spoke to The Globe say Health Canada is testing for the wrong microorganisms, as well as ignoring certain problem pesticides.”
Unlike in the United States, where legal cannabis is required to be inspected for pesticides, Canada’s regulations hasn’t kept up with opening of the market.
“Marijuana may be easier to obtain in Canada now than at any other point since 1920, when it was declared illicit, but oversight of the product has not followed suit.”
As Canada moves forward with legalization, the report from The Globe and Mail shows that the narrative being created around dispensary cannabis and the supposedly safe product supplied by government sanctioned growers isn’t accurate.