Following Health Canada‘s release of new medical cannabis regulations, the government has also said it plans to ease restrictions on testing for individuals, but smaller growers are still being left out.
“The department is currently working to enable registered persons to access testing services for their own dried or fresh marijuana or cannabis oil,” said Health Canada spokesman Eric Morrissette. “This would enable individuals to have more information about the potency of the strains they are producing (i.e. THC and CBD levels), as well as information about any contaminants (e.g. heavy metals, microbial) or residues in their product.”
While this move is in relation to the new ACMPR rules that allow home-growing, the government still views dispensaries as illegal, locking them out of receiving the same level of testing, a move that laboratory operator Chris Francis said isn’t in the best interest of Canadians.
Francis, who asked not to use his real name for fear that Health Canada would reject his license for testing non-licensed producer cannabis, said he thinks the testing industry is due for tremendous growth with legalization on the horizon, but needs to open to protect all consumers.
“The last thing we want is to go through the whole legalization effort and then have someone get sick or get health problems, not because cannabis is bad, but because of what they’ve put in to it,” he said. “You don’t know how it was grown and you don’t know what’s really inside of it and most people don’t have the skills to look at it — it could be grown by an organic grower and it could be perfectly fine, or it could just be laden with mould and pesticides. You don’t know until you properly evaluate it.”
Francis said there are three or four labs in Canada that are actively offering their services to test cannabis, while a number or other labs, largely found on universities, are also equipped with the necessary tools to fully profile for potency along with contaminants, but these services aren’t offered to smaller growers or dispensaries, with Health Canada threatening them with reprisal if they are discovered working with non-sanctioned growers.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Francis. “It’s almost unbelievable that Health Canada as an organization would prohibit people from testing product that could be harmful to them.”
Even if dispensaries are seen as illegal by the federal government, Francis said their acceptance by municipalities creates a responsibility on government to protect consumers.
Francis said licensed producer tests aren’t being done correctly and dispensary tests aren’t largely being done at all, creating an opportunity to fix the issue and give consumers more information about what they’re buying.
“The layperson looks at cannabis and thinks, ‘oh, that THC is so dangerous,’ well, it’s not the THC that’s dangerous — it’s all the contaminates and other stuff that can be found, the mould, the pesticides and residual solvents.”
Francis said more steps need to be done, even in the legal side of the industry, where licensed producers are only required to show consumers the level of THC and CBD in the product, numbers that aren’t always accurate.
He said, for instance, that Tilray’s total THC calculation on its website are incorrect, with the LP combing THC and THC-acid.
“They’re actually two different molecular weights,” Francis said. “You can’t take THC-acid, which is the non-phycoactive part of the plant … and just add the numbers together and call it a day. So their numbers are artificially inflated.”
Francis said tests for pesticides are complex and products can be screened and come up clean, “because, if you aren’t looking for a specific chemical, it won’t show up.”
“The only tests that appear to be done are for the legal pesticides, but what about all the illegal pesticides that are out there?” Francis said. “Nobody wants to inhale that into their lungs.”