Changes to cannabis regs increase beverage possession limit, streamline product testing

| Staff

Health Canada has announced new changes to the cannabis regulations today, which include increased beverage possession limits.

The changes announced today will also facilitate non-therapeutic research with human participants; allow analytical testing licence holders and government labs to produce, distribute, and sell cannabis reference standards and manufacture and assemble test kits; and will expand acceptable qualifications for the head of laboratory position.

The Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Concerning Cannabis Research and Testing and Cannabis Beverages and the Order Amending Schedule 3 to the Cannabis Act came into force on December 2, 2022, and will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II on December 21, 2022.

The changes were first announced as part of the Forward Regulatory Plan 2022-2024, and a Notice of Intent on the proposed changes was first published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on December 12, 2020. The final changes were to be announced by the end of 2022. 

The changes to the public possession limit for cannabis beverages would mean adult Canadians could possess up to as many as 48 cans rather than the five allowed previously.

Cannabis beverage makers in the industry have been lobbying for these changes since the rules were first announced several years ago, noting that only allowing consumers to buy five cans at a time was not practical.  

The changes to cannabis product rules will mean product testing will be easier and will change how labs can engage in cannabis testing practices. The changes to cannabis product testing (so-called “human trials”) should also assist the industry in more easily allowing the sampling of products still in the R&D phase. 

Previously, the regulations required additional product testing authorizations that some licence holders found too challenging to obtain. This is true not only for sampling dried flower, but also for products like edibles, beverages, and vape pens that producers otherwise have a limited ability to test for taste or effect until after they are released into the consumer market.

Other regulatory changes are also still in the works. In 2021, Health Canada proposed restrictions around flavouring in cannabis extracts and vape pens, which they say they expected to come into force “no earlier than 2022.” A representative for Health Canada told StratCann via email that the regulator does not have an update on the timing at this time.

Although on the surface these changes around flavouring appear quite strict, they are written in a way that still allows smells and flavours associated with cannabis to be used, either from cannabis-derived or non-cannabis-derived sources, says one industry expert.

Health Canada also notes that while there is no federal limit on the amount of cannabis that can be purchased or sold at a retail location, some provinces and territories have set purchase limits in their jurisdictions.

For those provinces and territories that reference the federal public possession limits to set purchase limits, these purchase limits will automatically change for cannabis beverages. However, for those provinces and territories that do not reference the federal public possession limits, they would need to amend their framework in order to align purchase limits to the new federal public possession limit.

Health Canada is also currently conducting a review of the Cannabis Act itself, with a report to be tabled no later than spring 2024.

  • As of December 2, 2022, the amount of cannabis beverages that an adult can possess in public for non-medical purposes has increased to forty-eight 355 mL standard-sized beverage cans (approximately 17.1 L) compared to the previous limit of approximately five 355 mL cans of cannabis beverages. 
  • Existing controls within the Cannabis Regulations remain in order to address the risks of overconsumption and accidental consumption.
  • Holders of a processing licence have a 12-month transition period to update the labels of affected cannabis beverages.  
  • Other authorized persons (e.g., provincially and territorially authorized distributors and retailers) can continue to sell or distribute their existing inventory of previously labelled and packaged cannabis beverages.    

Facilitation of non-therapeutic research on cannabis:

  • Non-therapeutic research on cannabis involving human participants no longer needs to meet the requirements for clinical trials under the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR). 
  • It is now possible to conduct this research solely under the Cannabis Regulations. These amendments allow researchers to investigate cannabis and its effects from a non-therapeutic perspective and allow more research for cannabis product development.
  • The Cannabis Act and its regulations include appropriate health and safety controls to protect research participants.
  • Clinical trials with cannabis that are currently underway are not impacted by these changes. The FDR and relevant sections of the Cannabis Regulations continue to regulate such research (e.g. requirements for a research licence, cannabis production and record retention).
  • Existing research licence holders conducting research with human participants have a 24-month transition period to submit new applications, or in some cases, amend their existing licenses.

Improving access to cannabis testing materials:

  • Analytical testing licence holders and government laboratories can now produce, distribute, and sell reference standards and manufacture and assemble test kits.
  • Individuals working in government laboratories are automatically allowed to do these activities.
  • Current analytical testing licence holders will need to amend their licence to be authorized for these activities.

Updated qualifications for Head of Laboratory positions for analytical testing licenses:

  • The educational qualifications for the Head of Laboratory position for an analytical testing licence holder have been expanded to allow for a larger pool of qualified candidates to occupy this role.