Ottawa’s latest rules risk ruining cannabis-infused beverages before they’re even legal

Opinion: Cannabis-infused beverages will not even be allowed to use the name ‘beer’ or ‘wine’

Dried cannabis and oils are currently legal in Canada and edible cannabis, which includes beverages, are scheduled to become legal for sale by October 2019. The federal government’s draft regulations for edibles, released recently, are riddled with problems, but some of the most glaring problems concern regulations on cannabis-infused beverages.

For newcomers to the concept, cannabis beverages are drinks infused with either CBD, THC, or a combination of other cannabinoids. These beverages, already a fixture in some American states that have legalized cannabis, such as Colorado, represent a new way for consumers to enjoy cannabis products without having to smoke. With no combustion and additional harm from smoking, cannabis beverages are a safer alternative than what we have now. This is a huge win for consumer choice. That said, these new products haven’t yet received the green light in Canada, and that means they could still be ruined by over-regulation prior to them ever being legal.

The first main issue with the draft regulations are the proposed production rules and how they impact infused beverages. Infused beverages will have to be manufactured in buildings that are entirely separate from any and all other food production. This will mean that in order to actually produce these beverages, manufacturers will need entirely new buildings and facilities, rather than simply creating sealed and secure rooms within existing facilities. Requiring manufacturers to operate in this way obviously hurts their bottom line. But more importantly, by inflating costs, it creates more barriers for consumers who might prefer the less-risky method of consuming cannabis via infused beverage, or any edible for that matter, rather than smoking it.

When it comes to packaging, these beverages will be required to be plain packaged just like other forms of cannabis currently on the legal recreational market. The arguments against plain packaging cannabis are well establishedand fairly straightforward. The issues with branding restrictions are especially true for beverages, because the draft regulations will prohibit well-established alcohol brands from using their name on cannabis products. This is problematic for consumers because alcohol brands have already solidified their brand with products that are for adult use only. Allowing for these alcohol brands to use their brand on cannabis products ensures that these beverages clearly signal to consumers that they are for only adults to use, which helps prevent and curb consumption from minors.

Beyond the importance of branding, and the obvious double standard when compared to alcohol (which allows for marketing and branding), there are significant problems with the physical limitations applied to how beverages need to be bottled. As currently written, these beverages will have to be in child-resistant packaging. It appears that current bottling practices may not meet this new threshold. Pry tops, pry tabs, and corks, although certainly child-resistant and good enough for alcohol products, don’t necessarily qualify. A simple amendment should be made to bring infused beverage regulations in line with alcohol bottling practices. In addition to this amendment, regulators should also allow for infused beverages to have similar bottle and can sizes when compared to alcohol.

The last major issue with the draft regulations is how these products will be named. If amendments are not made to the regulations, infused de-alcoholized beverages will not be allowed to be called “beer” or “wine.” This is problematic because beer and wine are the popular nomenclature for products of a similar nature. So long as the products specify that they are cannabis beer or cannabis wine products, there shouldn’t be an issue with the use of these terms. Clamping down on the use of beer and wine is similar to when the dairy industry tried to sue and shut down almond, soy and rice milk manufacturers for using the term “milk.” That over-reach was ridiculous, and applying the same logic to beer and wine would be simply replicating that mistake.

In addition to these federal regulatory problems, changes are going to need to be made provincially regarding where cannabis-infused beverages can be consumed. Currently provinces have consumption laws under the premise that most consumers are smoking cannabis. Because of this, legislators have treated cannabis consumption much like tobacco consumption. While that might be appropriate for smoking cannabis, it certainly isn’t appropriate for consumers who are ingesting it. Provincial amendments should be made to allow for edible cannabis products to be purchased and consumed anywhere that alcohol is permitted. This should include all licensed establishments such as restaurants, bars, clubs, special events via permit and consumption lounges.

Cannabis-infused beverages have the potential to be one of the safest and most popular methods to consume cannabis, but that is only possible if legislators don’t ruin these beverages before they even become legal. Unfortunately, without addressing the major issues in the draft regulations, it looks like the government’s paternalistic war on adult consumers will wage onward.

David Clement is the North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

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