Cannabis first became legal in all Canadian provinces back in October 2018, and while the country is years into the growing, new industry, it doesn’t come without adjustments. Notably, a new Health Canada proposal could change how the country calculates cannabis limits in beverages and allow consumers to purchase more beverages at a time, according to a Global News report from the Canadian Press.
Following the proposal’s announcement, Canada’s federal government is seeking public input on the proposed regulations, which would increase the purchase limit for cannabis beverages by more than eightfold. The 45-day consultation period ends April 26 and specifically makes one gram of dried cannabis equivalent to 570 grams of a weed drink. Currently one gram of dried cannabis is equivalent to 70 grams of a weed drink.
The regulation would also make one gram of dried cannabis equivalent to 70 grams of non-solids containing cannabis, like oils.
It’s a notable change, given that the Cannabis Act allows Canadians to carry no more than 30 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent at a time. Currently, Canadians are allowed to possess 2.1 liters of cannabis-infused beverages, about five standard-sized cans; the new regulations would increase that amount to 17.1 liters, about 48 standard-sized beverage cans.
According to a statement from Health Canada, the initial ratio was an error. It says the new rules “would correct an unintended consequence of the current equivalency, which restricts the possession and sale of beverages to a greater extent than other forms of cannabis.”
George Smitherman, president and chief executive of the Cannabis Council of Canada, voiced his support for the government’s action, as his council began pushing for the change last year.
“It took a long time and it’s still not exactly done yet, but we’re relieved to see that the government has taken stock of the situation and we were really pleased to see the content that they brought forward,” Smitherman said. “It could make for a different kind of May two-four. That would be nice.”
Smitherman’s council first saw the discrepancy looking at the country’s regulations, which allow shoppers to purchase 17 cannabis vape cartridges, a combined 5,950mg of THC. Consumers can also purchase 100 bottles of cannabis oil spray, containing 50,000mg of THC, in just one transaction. This left consumers of weed drinks feeling more limited because of how the equivalencies are calculated, also because cannabis beverages in Canada can contain no more than 10mg of THC.
It gets even more complex, and arguably inconsistent, when examining the range of dosage in cannabis-infused beverages. Consumers could buy no more than five 355ml cans of weed drinks with 2 or 2.5mg of THC in each, though they could purchase nine beverages in 222ml cans with 10mg of THC each.
“The formula that creates relative equivalency across cannabis products just missed the mark on beverages,” Smitherman said. “It wasn’t working and was suppressing the capacity of the consumer to try the products out.”
Not All Industry Experts Agree on the Proposal By Health Canada
Despite Smitherman’s enthusiasm, Mitchen Osak, president of Toronto-based Quanta Consulting, said the vast majority of the market won’t be affected by the new proposals and said they “couldn’t be more underwhelming.”
“While any liberalization is welcome, this is a snail’s step. To wit, beverages represent less than two percent of total legal cannabis consumed in Canada,” he wrote.
To put it into perspective, the beverage sales amounted to just C$39.3 million (or US$31 million) in the first nine months of 2021, according to the most recent Statistic Canada figures, compared to the half-billion-dollar annual market forecasted by accounting firm Deloitte.
Though Health Canada said there is no evidence these changes will lead to cannabis-infused beverages’ increase in popularity, the agency also didn’t rule out the possibility.
“This change may result in changes in consumer preferences, leading to cannabis beverages becoming a more popular cannabis product; however, there is no evidence to support that this change to equivalency and the corresponding impact on consumer preferences would occur,” Health Canada said.
Some argue that the reason cannabis beverage sales are down is because of the dosage limits. In the U.S. recreational market, a single weed drink can carry up to 100mg of THC. Lisa Campbell, chief executive at cannabis marketing company Mercari Agency, points to this distinction, saying that 10mg is “seen as a microdose” on the West Coast. “It’s not even seen as what you need,” she added.
Campbell also noted that these regulations don’t truly offer a solution to the issues around cannabis equivalency, calling it “pure optics” and a way for the government to placate companies.
“It’s 100 percent a false flag for progress because beverages are still limited to 10 milligrams of THC,” Campbell said. “We should be focused on increasing the THC limit so that consumers don’t have to go to the legacy market in order to buy edibles that meet their needs.”