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Ontario study shows downsides of illegal edible cannabis


April 7, 2022
By Grow Opportunity staff

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Illegal edible cannabis products had significantly less Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than advertised compared to legal products, and also contained pesticides not authorized for use on cannabis, a new report by the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) says.

An initial comparative study conducted by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) on behalf of the OCS and OPP included the testing of 44 edible cannabis products, with 22 legal products purchased from OCS, and 22 illegal products seized by the OPP Provincial Joint Force Cannabis Enforcement Team (PJFCET) during cannabis enforcement investigations. “Test results demonstrated that the legal edible products displayed a higher degree of accuracy in THC levels than illegal products when compared to their advertised amounts,” the OCS said. “In contrast, the illegal samples varied significantly in both package size and THC content, and most on average had only 20 per cent of the advertised THC levels.”

Illegal products not only fail to deliver the advertised levels of THC, the OCS said, but they also put consumers at risk of harm from unauthorized pesticides and other potentially harmful contaminants. “Of the 22 illegal products tested, 19 of them contained at least one of the 96 pesticides, many of which were found to be several hundred times above the reporting limits listed in Health Canada’s mandatory pesticide testing requirements for cannabis,” the OCS said. “This initial research highlights the need for continued investment into growing the body of research comparing legal and illegal cannabis products.”

“[The OCS] is committed to the legal cannabis market in Ontario – a market that prioritizes responsible, informed consumption and provides a safe alternative to the illicit market,” said Connie Dejak, chair of the OCRC board of directors. “Working with valued partners like the OPP and other law enforcement agencies, we intend to continue to invest in research that provides our consumers with the information they need to make educated decisions around their purchased consumption choices.”

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“This new study, presented in conjunction with the OCS, is a key example of why purchasing cannabis through a legal channel is the safest option for adults,” said Rachel Huggins, OPP deputy director, executive lead – cannabis legislation. “We encourage all consumers to be aware, diligent, and smart about decisions related to cannabis.”

The testing results on the illegal edible cannabis products are similar to the findings of an earlier study conducted by the NRC on behalf of the OPP, which found that illegal dried flower samples contained high levels of pesticides not authorized for use on cannabis. While the majority of the illegal vape samples did not indicate THC levels on their packaging, the six samples with labels claimed to have THC levels greater than 90 per cent but in actuality, contained roughly 50 per cent.

Products purchased from the legal market, either through an authorized retail store or online at OCS.ca in Ontario, are required to follow strict testing, packaging and labelling requirements that provide consumers with transparent information about cannabinoid content and other ingredients. Health Canada regulations also require legal cannabis products to be sold in child-resistant packaging and to be packaged in ways that do not appeal to children and youth.

A backgrounder document with more information is available here.