The case for government to help fund cannabis emissions testing

| Contributor

Hopefully you’ve seen The Globe and Mail article from August 2 entitled “In the Dark”, which provides a snapshot of where the industry stands regarding cannabis emissions testing. To put it bluntly, the picture is murky. While we have made major headway in the cannabis space, there is still a lot left to do!

The article quotes Anne McLellan, former federal health minister and deputy prime minister, who chaired a task force that worked toward legalization. She expressed surprise and disappointment that the government hasn’t funded any research into emissions testing after five years, despite promises to do so during the legalization debate. 

Ken Weisbrod, a licensed pharmacist and medical advisory board leader, echoes her sentiments. 

“We just want to have a conversation about what exactly we are consuming, and for whatever reason that has just not been able to happen,” the article quotes Weisbrod as saying. It’s important to note that advisory board members are not prohibitionists and were among the earliest supporters of legalization.”

Recall, too, Health Canada’s July announcement that it is actively testing legal and illicit cannabis products to provide Canadians with more accurate info about cannabis health and safety risks. 

This adds up to a noticeable desire for more data about what cannabis users are consuming, particularly regarding emissions. 

Does this signal a shift toward more robust regulations, especially concerning emissions?  

Regulatory Insights from the Tobacco Industry

The air is thick with uncertainty, and LPs know what that could mean: escalating costs. And for consumers? A potentially narrower selection in their cannabis choices, driven by a desire for safety and clarity.

The cannabis industry’s embryonic regulatory framework is nothing new; tobacco has undergone a similar journey. Looking back at the landscape of tobacco and nicotine-containing products, regulation can provide insight into what we may be able to expect in the cannabis industry. 

Tobacco has faced intense regulatory scrutiny since the 1990s, and there is still more work to be done. “If tobacco is at stage 6 of a regulatory journey, then cannabis is at about stage 2,” said Rana Tayyarah, Senior Director of Commercial Product Development at Labstat. “This means we should be preparing for the evolution of the cannabis industry, driven by potential new regulations and consumer demands for more.” 

Toward A Solution

So, what does that look like for the industry and LPs?

For industry, it could mean more research into cannabis, particularly emissions testing. “Whatever your role in the industry – LP, government, testing lab, scientist – I think we all agree that more data is a good thing,” said Tayyarah. “Consumers increasingly desire as much information as possible about whatever they’re consuming, be it food, beverages, or cannabis.” 

To LPs navigating economic headwinds that have led to the closings of some of their counterparts, this understandably raises concerns about new regulations and higher costs. The last thing the industry needs is a heavier economic burden to bear. 

“For that reason, we think it’s important that the government use money from the taxes and fees it’s collected over the past five years to help fund new research,” said Tayyarah. “Canada is the first G7 country to legalize cannabis, and we have a great opportunity to lead the world in cannabis testing and utilization for medicinal and recreational purposes.” 

Why is Emissions Testing so Challenging? 

Another reason for federal funding into more research is the challenges inherent to studying cannabis, particularly emissions. Most LPs simply don’t have the economic or technical resources to take on this work. 

Some of the challenges of emissions testing include:

  • Costs for laboratory testing equipment, like smoking machines, that can surpass $200,000.
  • Technical expertise to design testing protocols, operate equipment, and interpret results. 
  • The difficulty inherent to burning a combustible product and analyzing the resulting matrix despite the “background noise” from the various by-products. 
  • Lack of regulatory guidance surrounding emissions testing. 

Is the Current Testing Paradigm Overlooking Key Aspects of Consumer Experience?

Regarding emissions regulations (or lack thereof), the Cannabis Act places a great deal of emphasis on the quality of production, providing guidelines on Good Production Practices, including the control of the cultivation, harvesting, and processing environments. 

While important, the current focus has been predominantly on the tangible product – ensuring the flower or liquid concentrate is free from contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and pathogens. 

This approach can overlook the final form of the product as experienced by the consumer, be it the smoke from a pre-roll or the emissions from a vape. Current testing paradigms, while rigorous, sidestep the unique compounds created during combustion or vaporization, which can differ from the flower, pre-roll, or other product itself.

Unless Health Canada crafts new regulations, it’s up to LPs and scientists to pioneer work in the area of emissions testing, which requires a major commitment and investment of resources – both of which most LPs cannot spare right now. 

Advancing Cannabis Testing: The Need for Comprehensive Emission Analysis and Industry Collaboration

As the industry develops, it’s essential to stay a step ahead. While most everyone agrees we need more testing, it’s imperative that everyone work together to achieve this goal, including LPs, government, and scientists. 

“Cannabis’ regulatory journey is still unfolding,” said Tayyarah. “But we can see a desire for more testing and analysis, just like with tobacco 30 years ago. At Labstat, we’re focused on helping LPs get the product data they need and that their customers want so they can move the industry forward.”

With an industry-wide commitment to more testing, and help from the government, we can continue to understand cannabis and provide consumers detailed, accurate data so they can make informed decisions.

Content sponsored by: Labstat